Chatting to independent publisher, Freight Books

freight-books-logo-large

As part of my feature on the inaugural Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses I invited those publishers whose books made it through to the shortlist to answer a few questions or write a guest post for my blog. Today I am delighted to welcome Adrian from Freight Books. I review their contender for the prize, Treats by Lara Williams, here.

An introduction – who are you and what you aim to achieve?

Freight Books is a Glasgow based independent publisher, with a focus on fiction, poetry, illustrated and narrative non-fiction (and we publish humour books from time to time too). We have won or have been shortlisted for quite a few literary and design prizes for our books, and we were Scottish Publisher of the Year in 2015-16.

Our principal objective is to give a platform to talented writers, whether they be debuts, mid-career not receiving the attention they deserve. We publish writers from around the world but also enjoy celebrating work connected to this part of the world.

We sell books nationally and internationally and have sold rights to a significant number of our titles to international publishers in the US, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Australia and many other parts of the world. We’re particularly committed to the short story and try to publish at least one or two collections a year. I’m a huge fan of the short form.

How have things changed in publishing since you started?

Although we published our first book in 2001, Freight Books was formally established in 2011. In the five or so years we have been publishing ‘properly’, it’s been mostly about us learning how to create a sustainable business. In the wider industry the hysteria around ebooks has died down and there’s less doom and gloom, but it’s still tough to sell books in any kind of volume. Retailers are still very risk averse. It’s harder to sell ebooks via Amazon, as they’re far more guarded about handing out promotions. We try to be as professional as possible and honour the work as best we can. But in that time we’ve also invested heavily in our network and infrastructure, in international selling, so I think people know us better too.

Your experience of prize listings – what are the costs and benefits, monetary or otherwise?

Prizes are hugely important to the industry as it’s a great way for readers to discover books. Publishing is so competitive, anything that identifies a book as ‘special’ will help. It’s also great for the writers as its real affirmation. We’ve been lucky in that two of the first three books we published were shortlisted for national literary awards, including the Author’s Club Best First Novel for Elizabeth Reeder’s Ramshackle. Subsequently we won the Green Carnation Prize (for Anneliese Mackintosh’s brilliant Any Other Mouth) and the Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize (for Kirstin Innes’s controversial Fishnet). We’ve also been shortlisted for prizes like the Jerwood Encore, the Edge Hill Story Prize, the much-lamented Frank O’Connor International Story Prize and, in poetry, the Seamus Heaney Best First Collection, the Forward Best First Collection and the Aldeburgh Best First Collection. We really chuffed that Lara Williams has been shortlisted for the Republic of Consciousness Prize which we think is a great idea and wholly ethical. The more focus on independent publishing the better.

The issue with prizes are some of the punitive costs if you are shortlisted or win. I think there’s an assumption that publishers are rolling in money and are a legitimate source of funding for a prize. Personally, I’d be embarrassed if I was running a prize and had to chin the winners for cash to pay for my prize. Seems like a scam to me. Admin entry fees are fair enough but some, like the recently deceased Guardian First Book, had entry fees way beyond what’s acceptable. Clearly these claw-backs are targeting the larger publishers, not recognising that a) some of the best work comes from indies and b) there’s no way indies can justify these costs.

The future – where would you like to see your small press going?

Our ambitions are modest but achievable – that is to still be publishing great work in ten years and to be able to make a living doing so. We clearly want to be as successful as possible and winning one of the major prizes might be a way of propelling us up to the next level – but a huge amount of luck is required to get that. In the meantime, is up to us to keep our heads up and focus on doing the very best job we can for our writers.

treats

Click on the book cover above to check out what others are saying about Treats. You may also wish to buy the book.

Book Review: Treats

treats

Treats, by Lara Williams, is a collection of twenty-one short stories exploring the challenges of navigating modern life in the twenty-first century. With insight, poignancy and wit the author presents her cast of independently minded, mainly youngish adults who are each searching for love, meaning, or simply a way to get through each day in a British city.

My favourite story was the first in the collection, appropriately titled ‘It Begins’. In this an arts graduate returns to the parental home ready to start the next stage of her journey. All too soon she is assailed by reality.

“You get an office job. You assimilate with business graduates, with their hearty sense of cynicism, a premature world-weariness, worn with a badge of honour. So pleased with their early resignation, their: this, this is life. […] Imagine being that lacking in wonder, aspiring to jobs in logistics or IT services, imagine never entertaining frothy careers […] Did it make the heartbreak easier or earlier? You grip your rosy ideals, your soppy security blanket.”

Subsequent stories look at the excitement of lust, falling in love, and the inevitable disappointment. There are attempts to make a solitary life enough. For all the progressive ideals the various characters espouse there are still expectations to be met, small lies being told, frowned upon behaviours downplayed in order to impress. There is the hankering after a mate despite the recognition that this is unlikely to fill any void more than temporarily.

Dates are recognisable. There are backhanded compliments, men whose eyes linger on vaporous women passing by, excuses pouring forth for behaviours deemed inappropriate as these condescending alphas attempt to maintain the false idea they have formed of the woman they asked out.

Throughout each story the protagonists endeavour to mould themselves and those granted access to private spaces and lives. There is a strong desire for acceptance.

The freedoms offered by contemporary life in a metropolis come at a cost which these stories present with acuity and compassion, concisely voicing the equivical experiences of many. Although sharp in focus, harshness is avoided. This is an empathetic, satisfying read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Freight.

Book Review: Martin John

martinjohn

Martin John, by Anakana Schofield, takes a challenging subject and presents it in an offbeat style, yet somehow creates a story that draws the reader in to the eponymous protagonist’s strange and disturbing life. It generates more questions than answers but this seems fitting. Martin John is inherently unlikeable. His actions are loathsome yet the author presents his plight in such a way as to engender a degree of sympathy however discomfiting this may feel.

Martin John is a sexual predator. His mother, despairing of his behaviour and determined to minimise the inevitable disgrace in his home town when a young victim threatens legal action, banishes him to London with a stream of invective and instructions designed to prevent him from repeating his misdemeanours. He is to get a job, keep busy, avoid triggering situations, and visit his aunt every week to reassure her that all is as it should be.

Martin John does his best but the temptation to give in to his urges proves hard to resist. He takes on a house when an acquaintance goes to prison, letting out the top room to illegals who are easy to move on. When his nemesis gets past the rules and defenses he has put in place to protect his solitary habits and routines, Martin John’s precarious existence begins to slowly disintegrate.

The background and details are peeled back with a tender precision that is at odds with what is being revealed. The often profane language employed is fitting. Martin John’s predilections are described in gross and graphic detail from the point of view of the perpetrator and are disturbing to consider.

The writing is impressive. There is much repetition but this works in portraying the mindset of a man trying to control the perversions to which he seems addicted. His brushes with authority demonstrate society’s inability to help those such as him, who are widely and vocally disdained.

Knowing a little of what Martin John was about I was surprised by how engaging the book turned out to be. It defied my expectations. An intriguing and rewarding read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, And Other Stories.

Book Review: Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine

finefrontsmall

Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, by Diane Williams, is a collection of forty very short stories exploring such wide ranging themes as life, death, love, sex and associated, often fractious, relationships. There is a rough honesty to the thoughts and interactions in each snapshot – for a snapshot is all that can be offered in a tale that plays out in so few words. These are little moments of detail, vividly recalled with a point that is not always clear.

The opacity adds to the sense that the reader is observing rather than participating in each scenario. Characters share their thoughts with a dark, sometimes fevered intensity. There are moments of quiet reflection, gatherings where participants seem barely able to tolerate each other’s company, family groups displaying their love and despair at behaviours. Partners and friends huff over habits that grate.

A number of the stories provide observations on possessions when moving house or dealing with inheritance. The changing dynamics of relationships caused by the passage of time and a perceived lack of appreciation are touched upon. There is an apartness to each individual with occasional geysers of feeling spilling over those who happen to share proximity. Participants wade through many petty vexations.

Although easy enough to read and offering plenty to ponder I did not find this collection satisfying. As with incidents in life few tales offer a tidy conclusion. They are ripples in time, keenly considered, but sometimes frustratingly opaque. There is depth and immersion but too often I missed the point, if there was one, being made.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, CB Editions.

Book Review: Solar Bones

solar-bones-cover

Solar Bones, by Mike McCormack, is the most accurate adherence to stream of consciousness style writing that I have come across. The entire novel, all 223 pages in the edition I read, is presented as one continuous sentence. Do not let this put you off. Despite its apparently mundane subject matter it is an engaging and compelling read.

The narrator is Marcus Conway, a native of the county of Mayo in Ireland. When the book opens Marcus is standing in the kitchen of his family home listening to the Angelus bell ring out from the village church a mile away.

We learn that Marcus has been married for twenty-five years to Mairead, a teacher at a local school. They have raised two children – Agnes who is an artist, and Darragh who is casually working his way across Australia. The committed parents have adjusted to the initial emptiness felt when their grown-up children first moved away. They have settled into a comfortable routine.

Marcus looks around him recalling history as he has lived it through familiar places, possessions and significant events. He is an engineer by profession working for the local council on infrastructure projects. He is frustrated by the influence self-serving politicians exert on the decision making process. He takes pride in his ability to work to a standard.

Raised on a farm he remembers his childhood and then the deaths of his parents. His relationships have at times been rocky as life sometimes is. Mostly though he feels grateful for the chances he has been given. In many ways his is an ordinary life, as he wished it to be.

It did not take long to slip into the cadence of the writing. Its beauty is in the detail, the observations made and insights given. The reader is drawn into the intricacies of this man’s everyday pleasures and irritations. Not a single turn of phrase is dull or misplaced.

A haunting elegy that captures the battles and the beauty of existence. This is an extraordinary, life-affirming read.

Reading the Republic of Consciousness Prize Shortlist

img_20170208_155733217

In mid January I wrote of my plans to read the Republic of Consciousness Prize shortlist (you may read my post here). Between now and the announcement of the prize winner on 9th March I will be posting my thoughts on each book along with guest posts from those of their publishers who chose to take part in this feature. I am grateful to all who found the time to provide me with content.

I had previously read two of the books from the prize longlist which did not make it onto the shortlist. I have since read one other. If you click on a title below the photograph you may read my reviews.

img_20170208_160231059

I had also previously read one of the shortlisted books:

Given the quality of the writing in all of these books I was eager to tackle the remaining shortlist and have not been disappointed. All credit to the prize judges for curating such an impressive selection.

On Friday I will post the first of my remaining reviews – Solar Bones by Mike McCormack (Tramp Press). This has already won the Goldsmith Prize and the Irish Book Award Novel of the Year. It was the only other book from the Republic of Consciousness Prize long and short lists that I already had on my TBR pile. All other shortlisted books have been generously provided by the publishers for this feature – a big thank you to them.

Next week I will post my thoughts on: Fine Fine Fine Fine Fine by Diane Williams (CB Editions – who went into semi-retirement just before the shortlist was announced); Martin John by Anakana Schofield (And Other Stories) which was also shortlisted for the 2015 Giller Prize and the 2016 Ethel Wilson Prize for Fiction; Treats by Lara Williams (Freight Books).

My reviews for the remaining three books on the shortlist – Born on a Tuesday by Elnathan John (Cassava Republic) which was shortlisted for the 2016 Nigeria Prize for Literature and longlisted for the 2016 Etisalat Prize for Literature, Counter Narratives by John Keene (Fitzcarraldo Editions), and Light Box by KJ Orr (Daunt Books) – will follow along with the promised publisher guest posts.

Naturally I am not the only person reading these books. I recommend you check out the reviews being posted by the contemporary small press – A site for small presses, writers, poets & readers as they are excellent.

As a footnote to this introduction I will add one other thing that this exercise has taught me – how to spell consciousness. I have been hashtagging it on Twitter incorrectly for over a month. If you spot me doing this sort of thing again? Please let me know.

The Republic of Consciousness Prize

book-prize

I write regularly of my enthusiasm for books published by the small, independent presses. I am therefore following with interest a new literary prize set up to generate wider awareness of their work.

The Republic of Consciousness Prize was created by novelist Neil Griffiths to celebrate the “small presses producing brilliant and brave literary fiction” in the UK and Ireland. Griffiths, whose novel Betrayal in Naples won the Writers’ Club first novel award and whose Saving Caravaggio was shortlisted for the Costa best novel award, said he decided to found the new prize after realising that works from small presses represented the best fiction he had read in the last year. He explains in more detail here.

Unlike many larger awards, publishers are not charged an entry fee. The prize pot, to be divided between publisher and author, was raised by raffling £10 tickets online which gave donors a chance to win a bundle of books by British and Irish presses. Publishers with a maximum of five full-time paid people working for them may submit one novel or single author collection of short stories per year.

The winner will be chosen based on two criteria, lifted from the Galley Beggar website, ‘hardcore literary fiction and gorgeous prose’. These sound like my sort of books.

The Longlist, announced at the end of November 2016, contained the following titles:

  • And Other Stories for Martin John by Anakana Schofield
  • Cassava Republic for Born on A Tuesday by Elnathan John
  • CB Editions for Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine by Diane Williams
  • Daunt Books for Light Box by KJ Orr
  • Dodo Ink for Dodge and Burn by Seraphina Madsen
  • EROS for Crude by Sally O’Reilly
  • Fitzcarraldo Editions for Counternarratives by John Keene
  • Istros for Quiet Flows the Una by Faruk Šehić
  • Freight for Treats by Lara Williams
  • Galley Beggar for Forbidden Line by Paul Stanbridge
  • Holland House for The Storyteller by Kate Armstrong
  • New Island for Beautiful Pictures of a Lost Homeland by Mia Gallagher
  • Peepal Tree Press for The Marvellous Equations of the Dread by Marcia Douglas
  • Peirene Press for The Empress and the Cake by Linda Stift
  • Tangerine Press for The Glue Ponys by Chris Wilson
  • Tramp Press for Solar Bones by Mike McCormack

Yesterday evening, at an event held in Waterstones, Piccadilly, this was whittled down to the following shortlist, decided by a small group of independent booksellers, chaired by Neil Griffiths:

  • And Other Stories for Martin John by Anakana Schofield
  • Cassava Republic for Born on A Tuesday by Elnathan John
  • CB Editions for Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine by Diane Williams
  • Daunt Books for Light Box by KJ Orr
  • Fitzcarraldo Editions for Counternarratives by John Keene
  • Freight for Treats by Lara Williams
  • Galley Beggar for Forbidden Line by Paul Stanbridge
  • Tramp Press for Solar Bones by Mike McCormack

The winner will be announced in March and, if I can get hold of the first six of these books (the final two I already own) I will be reading along with the judges. Anybody care to join me?

readingbyfire