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Indie Spotlight: Otranto House

By Mara Radut, Millie Kiel and Megan Cooke

Welcome to the House of Horror! Otranto House, to be precise. Just in time for spooky season.

A Manchester-based indie founded in 2019 by Elizabeth Kennedy, Otranto House is sure to help you get your spook on. Having a small, yet potent array of crime, horror and fantasy books, this publisher is constantly on the lookout for brand new writing talent, with a predominant focus on YA and New Adult.

Otranto is a small town in the province of Lecce in Italy, famous for its fertile land and natural landmarks. However, its cultural significance is what connects the Northern publisher to it. Otranto happens to mark the setting of the first Gothic novel: Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto. The reason for settling on this location? Mostly because Walpole thought “Otranto” sounded cool. No, really. It does have a kick to it.

Otranto is also mentioned in Bram Stoker’s The Lady of the Shroud – so it is no surprise that Kennedy picked this name for her hub of horror stories.

Kennedy’s publishing journey has been a challenging, yet positively rewarding one. Her love of reading and writing initially led her onto an academic path, obtaining an undergraduate degree in Creative Writing and a MA in Publishing. And what does one do after all that? They start a publishing house, if they’re Elizabeth Kennedy. Jumping right in, essentially, is not an easy enterprise. Learning to navigate some of the challenges of having a brand new publisher while working as a full-time freelance content writer – not easy either.

Otranto House reflects Kennedy’s passion and dedication. Although it might get hectic at times, she tells us she would not have it any other way: “I love doing it and working with a lot of wonderful writers and other creatives in the two years since we published our first book has been amazing.”

The choice to focus on YA stemmed from a lack of representation for this genre amongst the publishers of Manchester. As a teenager, Kennedy loved crime and horror stories, and Otranto House is her way of giving back. “I think it's also important to produce great books that young adults can get lost in and find a love for reading as a result!” she tells us, and we couldn’t agree more.

Wall of Dolls by Yolanda Sfetsos is the newest addition to the Otranto House realm. It is a story about just how dangerous a Ouija board can be, especially on a Halloween night… and since Halloween is around the corner, we believe this is the perfect read for All Hallows’ Eve.

Wall of Dolls brings Otranto House’s list up to four books. The first book published by Kennedy’s independent press was in fact a work of her own – a woman of many talents! Five Dead Blondes, written by Elizabeth Kennedy with Lydia Grace, tells the story of Thorncliffe College following the murder of a student before a new school year. With twists and turns this book will keep you guessing and on the edge of your seat. Otranto House’s list also includes a variety of genres. Tales of the Supernatural is a collection of six short stories from six horror writers, Yolanda Sfetsos, Sam Pope, Neve York, Martha Watson, Karen Featherstone and Jessica Allen. From the vengeful ghost of an executed prisoner, to a quaint English town with sinister traditions, the collection is something “that will haunt every reader and delight fans of horror.”

That Otranto House has published four books in two years – and survived a global pandemic to boot – not only shows the strength and demand for YA horror and crime, but also a flair for picking great stories that people want to read. Even if Halloween weren’t just around the corner, we think they’re definitely an indie press to watch!

Otranto House has got no plans of slowing down. 2022 will see the release of the first part of EchoWorlds, a YA fantasy trilogy by Jack Cornes. Additionally, beyond YA and New Adult books, Kennedy also hopes to publish adult crime, horror and fantasy fiction someday. It is then safe to say that Otranto has got its plate full and its future bright.

What are your plans for Halloween? We hope you’ll join us at Otranto House.


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