The Northern Fiction Alliance Column: Saraband Books

Summer: time to kick back a little? Yes and no. We’re busy releasing books – something for folks to read at the beach or on retreat in the wilderness – and, of course, festival season is well underway along with a somewhat bizarre mix of torrential rain, heatwaves and high winds. Book lovers don’t let a mere freak weather occurrence get in the way of a good author reading, though. Far from it. We’re right at home in the wuthering heights and the tempest.

This year, our farthest-flung visiting author is Aussie Angela Meyer, who’s appearing at the Big Daddy of summer festivals, the Edinburgh International Book Festival. She is launching her debut novel, ‘A Superior Spectre’, shortlisted for three Australian awards and nominated in Edinburgh’s First Book award. (Vote here!)

Angela also just won the inaugural Mslexia novella award, with ‘Joan Smokes’: we’re celebrating with publication in December – and there just might be a sneak preview during her tour. If that’s not enough talent for one person, she’s also widely known for her day job as the book editor who ‘discovered’ and worked with Heather Morris for her international bestseller The Tattooist of Auschwitz, and its forthcoming sequel.

Northern readers can see Angela in conversation with Mslexia’s Debbie Taylor at the Newcastle Lit and Phil on Tuesday 20th August, or with the inimitable Jane Bradley of For Book’s Sake and That’s What She Said at Blackwell’s Manchester on 28th August.

We’re also delighted to have Amanda Thomson at EIBF, with her Scots language dictionary of nature words and also in the Africa Outriders programme; Donald S Murray with his multi-award-nominated poignant novel of the Iolaire disaster, As the Women Lay Dreaming; and Sue Lawrence, with her hugely popular historical mystery Down to the Sea’.

Edinburghis a fantastic venue for readers of all ages to meet authors from around the world. And this year they’re hosting Part 2 of the Northern Lights initiative, bringing together publishers from Scotland and Northern England to help ensure that voices from well beyond the London bubble are heard. Part 1 took place at Bradford Lit Fest, with fellow NFA publishers Bluemoose, And Other Stories and ourselves taking part in the day’s panels and discussions, together with librarians and agencies including Creative Scotland, Arts Council England and New Writing North. The planners have put a good deal of thought and energy into the programme, and Nicola Sturgeon, a great champion of reading, is taking part in the Edinburgh event.

Harrogate is another outstanding literature festival town. In summer it’s the turn of the Theakstons Crime Fiction festival. Every year top writers, from literary authors (like our own prize winner Graeme Macrae Burnet) to the more commercial thriller writers, play to large and enthusiastic crowds in one of the major events in this genre’s calendar. I say “play”: there’s a crime fiction band, the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, who headline not only Bloody Scotland and Harrogate, but this year even Glasto itself! (Ok, maybe they didn’t actually headline Glasto. But still. They rocked it.)

In other news this summer, we’ve announced the hugely talented Juliana Mensah as the inaugural winner of the North Bound book award (hat tip to Robbie Guillory for the name) – a prize celebrating writing talent in the North, with partners New Writing North and UCLan. Her winning novel, Castles from Cobwebs, is remarkable, and we look forward to bringing it into the world in a year or so. With “moments of real beauty and clarity in the prose” it’s “powerful, unique,” said judge, author and Guardian journalist Chitra Ramaswamy.We can’t wait for you to read it!

Thanks in large part to the Northern Fiction Alliance, more and more literary events, readings, conferences and workshops are cropping up across the North. To name a couple we’ve been involved in: the Society of Authors held a “Writing the Outdoors” day in Keswick at the lovely Theatre by the Lake, featuring nature writer Karen Lloyd, and even a boat trip on Derwentwater. The first ever Mslexicon saw a weekend-long gathering in Leeds of women writers from across the UK in a fantastically inspiring and well-attended conference, with a range of excellent speakers.

We’ve also been celebrating! Authors (and staff) have been winning prize recognition and other achievements. Our own Elizabeth Beck won a Print Futures award last month, while July intern Hamzah Hussain has already bagged his first full-time publishing job. Author Bob Gilbert was named not only to the prestigious Rathbones Folio longlist, but also the Wainwright Award for nature writing, with his fascinating urban nature book Ghost Trees; and other authors with prizes too numerous to mention – although Donald Murray gets special mention for the sheer number of nominations for As the Women Lay Dreaming. Catherine Czerkawska has released a complete departure from her usual writing: an unusual family memoir–true crime, A Proper Person to Be Detained, to fantastic reviews, from Leeds to Glasgow to Ireland, where the action ranges.

All in all, after a thousand splendid suns (I wish), it must be time for a holiday! If nothing else, to get into shape for the Dostoevsky Wannabe indies’ book fair, Manchester Literature Festival, Tidelines, Wigtown, Bloody Scotland, Frankfurt Book Fair, and many more events, not to mention new releases and an autumn full of books and reading…Happy summer, everyone, thanks for all the books, and see you soon!