Indie Spotlight On: Saraband
By Mollie Gregory-Clark and William Swift
Originally founded in Connecticut, USA, in 1994 before relocating to Glasgow in 2000; followed by Manchester in 2017, Saraband has been making waves across the Western world with its outstanding library of literary, historical and cultural fiction along with an impressive archive of nature writing and memoir.
Commended by The Guardian as a “small but brilliant independent press” Saraband hopes to inspire, inform and entertain its readers by providing a platform for local, underrepresented voices with the ambition to make the world a better place. The press values sustainability, and places emphasis and importance on the relationships with their authors and partnerships with colleagues across the indie publishing and bookselling sectors along with anywhere else where good writing lives. Now publishing across all digital and print platforms with active social media channels and a podcast, Saraband has become a force amongst indie publishers and the place to go for books that are imaginative, original and a little bit different.
Although Saraband’s modest website does not easily distinguish a ‘best seller,’ it does celebrate, repeatedly, one of their most highly awarded novels. His Bloody Project, a 2016 Booker Prize nominee, is once again shortlisted for Booker Foundation recognition, awarding its loving readership with a universe of bonus content and reading guides. Readers who enjoyed the novel, or who are looking for a deep dive into history with a pastoral thriller, will enjoy this content and the picture it creates of Scottish history.
His Bloody Project is the epitome of Saraband’s staple genre, historical fiction with an emphasis on the natural landscape of the isle’s Northern regions. Written by Graeme Macrae Burnet, this novel includes a main character by the same name, Macrae. This Scottish meta-thriller leaves you wondering whether Macrae is guilty as well as whether he lives to tell the tale to his grandchildren. Although it is a work of fiction, Burnet creates a deep and gripping novel that transcends the world he has built between the pages and speaks, chillingly, to reality and leaves you questioning not only what makes you guilty, but what you know to be history and what is only a story.
Saraband’s blog-style post speaks specifically to the reader of indie presses when they encourage readers to “find your way” to His Bloody Project. Saraband is an indie publishing house with regular releases, and I will now turn the page and help you “find your way” to their new, up-and-coming publications.
The Bay is a debut release of historical fiction by Julia Rampen, taking place during Morecambe Bay’s 2004 cockling disaster, and a perfect fit at Saraband. This novel star two characters, Arthur and Suling, who form an intergenerational, unlikely friendship. Rampen, in a Q&A with Saraband, alludes to her interest in the dramas that impact us, sight unseen, every day. With two characters exploring an unlikely friendship, Rampen puts a face to this underreported disaster in a tactful, historically aware fashion. With their emphasis on Northern pride, it is releases like this one that remind us, Saraband’s mission is not Northern perfection. Rather, this release reflects the complex picture Saraband paints of the North in the literary canon.
Pride Month in 2023 brought the LGBTQIA+ community a host of new characters across the media spectrum. Saraband’s contribution, authentic to their message, is a queer study of LGBTQIA+ coding in the horror industry. It Came From The Closet uses horror tropes to reflect the everyday experiences of queer people in an anthology format. Rather than being critical of the industry when uncovering these similarities in experience, Joe Vallese has selected short stories and personal essays that join in on the fun. These works reclaim the horror genre and engage with tropes as a whole as well as individual films such as Jaws, which is reinterpreted between these covers.
Saraband publishers reflect a desire for diversity in historical fiction - these aren’t the average World War novels you got your father for Christmas. What is underappreciated is the very existence of these novels: although readers have expressed this desire, it is down to us to “find our way” to what Saraband has provided, through their events, Booker Foundation content, or other media representation.