Notes from the North: Issue 4
Meet Northern Fiction Alliance, the publishing collective showcasing Northern indie presses and helping to reshape a London-centric industry.
Founded in 2016 by Manchester-based Comma Press, the Northern Fiction Alliance is made up of eleven Northern publishers, including leading independents Peepal Tree Press in Leeds, Liverpool’s Dead Ink Books and Sheffield’s And Other Stories. Their goals include increasing the visibility of northern authors, placing Northern publishing on a global stage, sharing skills, contacts and resources.
The prospect of a support system and better visibility can be a lifeline for small independent publishers, who often face a number of challenges distinct from their larger counterparts from a lack of contacts to a shortage of financial capital. Being based far from opportunities in London means that these difficulties are only exacerbated for northern independents, making the efforts of the Northern Fiction Alliance to ‘level the playing field’ vital to supporting Northern publishing.
In particular, the hurdles faced by northern indies affect their ability to sell rights abroad. Attempts to rectify this through funding from Arts Council England’s International Showcasing Programme has helped the Alliance to hold stands at six international book fairs, including Frankfurt and London, where they have sold £44,000 in rights to thirteen territories. This funding is crucial to their success as a Northern-based collective. Members have also found success through translated books, with a title by one of the members reaching last year’s Man Booker International Prize shortlist.
Not only is the Northern Fiction Alliance important in re-defining UK literary culture, but they are crucial in terms of wider industry diversity. Ra Page, founder and managing editor of Comma Press, states:
“Staff at these small houses are drawn from a much broader range of backgrounds, not just the most privileged. This has a very real effect on what, who and how these houses publish.”
However, just as publishing is criticised for being too London-centric, the diversity reports seem to revolve around the city. Page explains,
“The industry is always crying out for more diversity, inclusivity and range; yet the reports that highlight these problems often fail to even include the Northern independents in their surveys.”
Not only does the prevalence of small, independent publishers give us hope in the way of diversity, but funding from such large institutions such as Arts Council England reminds us that these voices are now looking to be heard on a nationwide and global scale.
Despite this lack of visibility in the industry, northern independents are advantaged by their flexibility, pushing the boundaries with their content in a way larger companies rarely can. As Stefan and Tara Tobler of ‘And Other Stories’ (publisher of our featured Northern book this issue) point out:
“…whatever the big publishers do in the future, nimble independents are doing it now.”
Book Review - Theft by Luke Brown
Theft is the second novel written by Luke Brown, recently published by And Other Stories, an indie press based in Sheffield and part of the Northern Fiction Alliance. It is a brilliant book about belonging, class and searching for something more.
The protagonist and narrator of the book is Paul, a complex character who grew up in Fleetwood on the Fylde Coast. Paul works as a bookseller and writes for a comical magazine that reviews haircuts in London. On the occasion of his mother’s death, he is forced to revisit the place he was raised, a decaying coastal town with a tight-knit, insular community. As well as exploring Paul’s strained relationship with his sister who goes missing after an argument, the book also follows his romantic pursuits with Emily Nardini, a cult author and a viral journalist.
“But change to what? I have always worried that I am destined to become my father. I am like him a white male from the north of England, small town, moribund, working class-cum-middle class, with books on the shelves, schooled in low aspiration in lessons and high aspiration at home, a reader, am autodidact, a would-be escapee.”
Whilst humorous at times and narrated with articulate wit, Theft is also written with tenderness and an introspection which leaves the reader exhilarated and full of questions about the society we live in. Particularly interesting themes are the novel’s discussions of class and social mobility, the immediate post-Brexit setting and Brown’s exploration of our personal attachment to the places we come from.
Written by an upcoming northern author, Theft is an excellent new novel which probes how we approach our identities, our personal desires and our relationships with the people around us.