Indie Spotlight: Knights Of
By Charlotte Bonner, Amy Tighe and Ella Davies
Aimée Felone, Managing Director of the independent publishing press Knights Of, spoke at the Booksellers Children’s Conference 2022, talking about Knights Of’s morals, goals and their recently published anthology.
Knights Of is a diverse publisher with the aim of publishing overlooked, underrepresented and under-published voices. The press was founded in 2017, partly due to the frustration that change wasn’t happening quickly enough in relation to diversity and representation within the publishing industry. They wanted to be part of making the much-needed change come around quicker and ensuring there was always accurate representation. With a passion for children and children’s books, the founding of Knights Of as a diverse children’s publisher was an easy decision for them to make.
Immediately, they moved away from the temporary fixes that the publishing industry had so far employed to create diversity and representation and instead looked to focus on publishing inclusively from the beginning. They spotlight and uplift underrepresented and unheard voices, seek to ensure that all of their books are accessible to as many children as possible and continually fight against the notion that diverse books are for diverse children only – a negative stereotype that still lingers in the industry and book community.
Knights Of have been very successful in publishing and marketing every author that they work with. The debut writers and award-winning authors they publish receive similar success after working with their team.
One key aspect of Knights Of’s publishing is ensuring that trauma does not become the centre of their books. Diverse and underrepresented voices often see themselves represented in books through the trauma they have lived, not through acknowledging that those same people can be main characters without any trauma attached. Books are a form of escapism for everyone, and whilst it is essential to represent the trauma that these voices do indeed live through, it is also important to have books where these underrepresented communities are, for example, represented going about their daily lives, having relationships, celebrating friendships and empowerment.
According to a 2020 report by the National Literacy Trust, Seeing Yourself in What You Read, 46% of children aged nine to eighteen from Black ethnic backgrounds don’t see themselves in the books they read. However, slowly, that tide is turning, with the proportion of British children’s books featuring a Black, Asian or minority ethnicity main character increasing to 5% in 2019, from just 1% in 2017.
A recent publication from Knights Of is the Happy Here anthology, published in August 2021 and distributed to every primary school in England for free. Happy Here featured ten stories from Black authors and illustrators, focusing on the experience and possibility of happiness in their characters. They allowed their authors, editors and illustrators free rein to choose whatever they wanted to go into the anthology as long as there was an emphasis on happiness. The anthology has been very well received!
An exciting recent event for Knights Of was the Bath Children’s Literature Festival on 24 September 2022. The award-winning Scottish author Elle McNicoll spoke at the festival, representing the Knights Of press. McNicoll is an advocate for increased representation of neurodiversity in publishing and incorporates this into her adventurous fantasy novels. She brought magic and inspiration to this event! Another exciting update from this children’s author is the confirmation of a movie adaptation of her book, A Kind of Spark. This highly anticipated film is planned to be released in 2023.
We shone a spotlight on Knights Of in a past issue and it’s wonderful to see that, since then, they have gone from strength to strength, including being crowned winner of Children’s Publisher of the Year 2022 at the British Book Awards, with judges giving such glowing praise as “small but mighty, and full of integrity and purpose.” 2022 was a year that saw them quadruple their total book sales and triple their rights turnover. The bookshop which began as a week-long pop-up, Round Table Books in Brixton, is still going strong and proving more and more popular. There, you can settle in amongst the cosy interior and find jewels that form part of their Black Studies Module, such as Black Joy; edited by former gal-dem Editor-in-Chief, Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff and up-and-coming talent Timi Sotire, an anthology which celebrates the joy and beauty of what it means to be Black and British. Also part of this Module is Musical Truth: A Musical Journey Through Modern Black Britain which, through the lens of twenty eight songs and the artists who performed them, takes an unbridled approach to challenge the narratives and key moments in history that you have been taught, and invites you to inspect whose perspective you have been reading up to now, redefining British history, the Empire and postcolonialism along the way.