Indie Spotlight: Seren Books
By Millie Kiel, Mara Radut and Megan Cooke
Looking at a Welsh independent publisher has been a long-overdue necessity for the Indie Presses team. This issue we are giving our full attention to Seren Books, the leading independent literary publisher in Wales.
A good story told well. An idea presented interestingly, or even provocatively. Do these sound like the foundations of a great book to you?
Seren Books is an independent publisher in Wales, founded on these principles. The publisher specialises in English-language writing from Wales, with an aim to bring Welsh literature to a broader audience. With their roots in Bridgend, South Wales, Seren Books’ outlook is simultaneously at home, and global: they aim to prove that writers from a small country with a deep and enriching culture have a worldwide relevance. Their ardent determination to “drive [Welsh] culture forward" and “to engage with the world” stems from a wish to be as proactive as possible. In other words, merely reflecting on the culture in which Seren publishes will simply not suffice. Seren aims to be both provocative and informative whilst reaching overseas readership.
With its beginnings in the magazine Poetry Wales, which was first published in 1965, Seren’s list has grown from its original focus on poetry. With the publishing house founded officially in 1981, Seren now publishes literature, poetry and non-fiction with an ambition to drive forward the culture of publishing and literature.
This approach clearly pays off: their author list includes a whole host of prize winners and nominees. Only recently, Seren poet Ross Cogan was awarded second place in the Nature and the Ecological Emergency International Poetry Competition, with a poem called Reconsidering.
It is difficult not to become immediately intrigued by the titles belonging to Seren's poetry repertoire. All the Men I Never Married. We Have to Leave the Earth. Other Women's Kitchens. With mostly themes of political nature, these volumes might just change the way you look at the world. From feminism to ecocriticism, to brooding upon unsuccessful romantic relationships, they are bound to offer alternative perspectives and plenty of food for thought.
Other Women's Kitchens by Alison Binney is an essential read: winner of the Mslexia Women's Poetry Pamphlet Competition in 2020, it explores the coming-of-age journey of a gay woman in 21st century Britain. Although paved with challenges concerning adulthood and the lesbian identity, the collection strives to thrust forward "the joy of finding both love and increased confidence" in those two aspects of life. There is no sugar-coating, there is politics, but there is also humour, sustained by beautiful language.
Another Seren publication, Lucy Gannon’s The Amazingly Astonishing Story, was shortlisted for Wales Books of the Year 2021 in the creative non-fiction category. The childhood memoir combines both the sad and humorous into a vivid and emotional story of a working-class girl who struggles with making her dreams a reality.
From poetry, to non-fiction, to food: the latest addition to Seren’s list is Bar 44: Tapas y Copas. Described as “the must-have Spanish cookbook of the year,” it is testament to the strength and diversity of Seren Books. A celebration of Spanish food and drink, the recipe book comes out of Bar 44, a chain of restaurants based in South Wales and Bristol. It is a labour of love and passion – exactly what Seren books is about.
As well as their printed works, Seren Books is made especially accessible through their short stories. Each month their website boasts a short story of the month which is free to access and acts as a smooth introduction to the literature they publish. They also have a whole collection of affordable short stories by a vast range of writers that are easy to jump into.
Engaging with its community is one of the top priorities for Seren. By hosting both in-person and online literary events, Seren joins its authors and its readers together on a regular basis. One of their upcoming events is an online live event on 15 December, hosted by one of Seren's very own authors, Angela Graham and Dr. Frank Ferguson, Director of the Centre for Irish and Scottish Literature at the University of Ulster. Tickets for "The Short Story as Witness" can be booked for free via this link.
Seren Books is doing a fantastic job of fulfilling their mission, using their influence to spread Welsh literature to the rest of the world. We cannot wait to see where Seren Books is going to go next… and wherever they go, we will follow.