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Indie Spotlight: Cipher Press

By Charlotte Bonner and Amy Tighe

With Pride month ending, it is important to remember that supporting and promoting the LGBTQIA+ community is something that should be focused on year-round and not just for a single month. We have chosen to spotlight Cipher Press to highlight another phenomenal queer-owned and run independent press in the UK.

Cipher Press, founded in 2020, is a London-based independent publisher of queer fiction and non-fiction, with an aim to amplify queer voices and champion LGBTQIA+ writers in the UK and beyond. They are hoping to make the publishing industry more inclusive at every level.

Co-founded by Jenn Thompson and Ellis, both from publishing and editorial backgrounds, with support from Wolf Murphy-Merrydew, owner of design agency, Keeping the Wolves at Bay, working as the creative director of Cipher Press.

In the 80s and 90s, gay and lesbian publishing was active and vibrant, with many presses dedicated to offering readers LGBTQIA+ books and a space to explore ideas and identity. However, like many queer spaces, many of these publishing houses closed. Cipher Press believe that now is a wonderful time to start something new – a publishing press to reflect the ways the LGBTQIA+ community has evolved and changed; championing the voices of queer authors and creating a platform from which to tell queer stories. They are keen to publish those who are further marginalized within the LGBTQIA+ community: people of colour, working-class, trans and gender non-conforming authors.

The name Cipher Press originated from the fact that queer storytelling has a coded history, with queer narratives often hidden amongst other more mainstream “acceptable” narratives. Told through little queer cyphers hidden through literature. They wanted to bring these cyphers to the light and make them more visible and widely shared.

The press was launched mid-pandemic after the team had been furloughed and were henceforth granted the time to work on passion projects such as a community-led chapbook, which acted as a mini launch for the press. But, starting a successful independent publishing press during a pandemic is no easy feat. With a lack of in-person book launches and talks, closed bookshops and book festivals cancelled or turned online, networking and promoting a new press with new books was an incredibly difficult task. However, whilst difficult it is not impossible, as Cipher Press has clearly shown. They used their time in the pandemic to create the groundwork for the press, so when the world opened back up again, they were ready to go and have indeed flourished since.

To say that Cipher Press is one to watch is an understatement; joy and glee spills out of many titles, especially those that define new sub-genres: the midnight humour of Alison Rumfitt's debut novel, Tell Me I'm Worthless, where a haunted-house serves as a metaphorical stage for fascism is described as "the new gross;" I nearly sprained my thumb clicking “add to cart” when I read the description of anthology Unreal Sex "your new favourite genre - 'the fucking fantastic' ... everything is sex: walls, wax, the past, your future, your neighbours, hankies, candles, circuit boards, petri dishes, scrap metal – and language itself." The ten wildly rollicking stories command you to hold on tight and don't let go until the very last page. Their first publication Large Animals in August 2020, a debut collection of short stories from Jess Arndt, aims to disarm the reader and challenges the notion of what it means to have, and inhabit, a body.

Cipher's submission window for #NewQueerVoices based in the UK closed at the end of May, with Arts Council funding to help highlight the voices of "debut writers who are trans, non-binary, queer writers of colour and queer working-class writers,” notes co-founder Ellis, “with the intention of publishing outside of the white, queer experience.” The new titles resulting from this open call will hopefully be available in the not-too-distant future, and will certainly continue to entertain and delight its readers.

Cipher go beyond fiction, too, for example with Front Lines: Trans Journalism 2007–2021 coming out in July, by prolific and influential journalist Juliet Jacques, whose work has been read in British and foreign media for over a decade, as she writes about the trans experience. Front Lines is a collection of her writings, and questions what the future of trans writing might look like.

With so many absolutely stunning, eye-catching and exciting books both currently published and being published soon by this wonderful press, Cipher Press is certainly an independent press to look out for! I cannot wait to see what their next brilliant releases will be!


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