Indie Spotlight: Cipher Press
By Mara Radut, Megan Cooke and Millie Kiel
Founded in 2020, Cipher Press is an independent press that specialises in telling queer stories and amplifying the voices of LGBTQ+ writers.
Entirely queer-run, the press was founded by Jenn Thompson, who currently works at the independent book distributor Turnaround, and Ellis, an In-house Editor at the Terrence Higgins Trust. They work alongside their Creative Director Carly Murphy-Merrydew, who currently owns her own design agency, Keeping the Wolves at Bay.
Formed in response to the lack of dedicated queer publishing in the UK, the press aims to bring the genre to a more widespread audience. Queer fiction is not just for those in the LGBTQ+ community or young adult fiction, but also for general adult audiences.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the queer publishing scene was significantly more dominant with Jenn reminiscing in an interview for TheSkinny, “at Frankfurt Book Fair, on the Thursday night, it was like a big queer publishing party with all the LGBTQ+ publishers. Then slowly, over the years, they all just disappeared.” Cipher Press is a step towards bringing back the enthusiasm for queer fiction that has dwindled over the years.
Cipher Press aims to bring more queer literature to the UK, noting in an interview for The Bookseller that the books they aimed to publish were often more common in the US.
"In the UK I know we’ve come on leaps and bounds with representation in the industry, but most of it seems to be focused on YA. We want to take the same sort of enthusiasm for YA but put it in the adult market."
Despite representing the entire LGBTQ+ community, Cipher Press is currently placing an emphasis on amplifying the voices of more marginalised groups in the community. This includes people of colour, working class, trans and gender non-conforming authors.
“We want to publish authors who are creating a new literary canon by disrupting existing narratives and retelling them in new ways. We want to publish the many different stories that make up our community, and we want to make those stories accessible to everyone.”
Cipher publishes queer fiction and creative non-fiction, with their catalogue including novels, collections of short stories and more introspective non-fiction. They gravitate towards fiction that mainstream publishers may shy away from, particularly books that subvert traditional stories and make them queer.
Tell Me I’m Worthless by Alison Rumfitt is Cipher Press’ next publication, due to be published next month. It’s a gothic haunted house novel which is said to take the reader from the depths of literary gothic, up through Brighton’s queer scene and out into the modern trans experience. Eliza Clark, the author of Boy Parts, described it as “punk in every sense of the word, this is a debut unlike anything you’ve read before.”
Alongside their catalogue, Cipher Press publish 'Cipher Shorts', a series which aims to showcase contemporary queer writing from across the UK and further afield. Presented in a series of chapbooks, these publications are accessible and exquisite.
The publication of 'Cipher Shorts #1', There Will Always Be Nights Like This, tapped into the zeitgeist of our collective pandemic mindset.
Through this book, Cipher aimed to provide an “antidote to the social distancing” that had become so much a part of life. A collection of essays, short stories and poems it is a tribute to those spaces, those people and those experiences we miss when they’re suddenly removed from our worlds.
As well as being a force for good as an antidote to the often solitary experiences of lockdowns, There Will Always Be Nights Like These is also a force for good in a much more tangible way. Profits from sales of the book go to the Outside Project, the UK’s first LGBTQ+ homeless shelter and crisis centre, indicative of Cipher Press’ commitment to enacting real change through publishing.
Cipher Press is innovative and quick to adapt, perhaps something that is to be expected for a press that was founded in the midst of a global pandemic! In their second 'Cipher Short', titled In the Past The Future Was Better, they published a collection of pieces to go alongside a live reading that took place over Zoom.
The book is a collection of work by some of the boldest LGBTQ+ writers today, in which “queers past, present and future fizz and collide across time, space, stages, libraries and public toilets.”
Originally, this event would have been in person, taking place at the 2020 Fringe! Queer Film and Arts Festival. Instead, 'Cipher Short #2' is “the direct result of having to change how we absorb live literature and an experiment in what that means for the future.”
Cipher Press has made a noticeable impact on the industry since its launch last year and we can’t wait to see how it will continue to bring queer literature to a wider audience.