Spotlight: Peepal Tree Press
This week we are highlighting Peepal Tree Press: a leading independent publisher based in Leeds. The press aims to publish ‘the very best of international writing from the Caribbean, its diasporas and the UK,’ and it is an important voice in promoting diversity in both northern and international publishing.
Peepal Tree has published over 400 titles since being founded in 1985, promoting both established and debut writers. Their books cover a wide variety of genres, including fiction, poetry, academic and non-fiction. Among them are numerous award-winning titles - most recently Roger Robinson’s A Portable Paradise, which won the RSL Ondaatje prize earlier this year, as well as the T S Eliot prize in 2019.
Since their beginning, Peepal Tree Press has undergone several transformations, resulting in an interesting publishing history. Their work began with the publication Backdam People: a collection of stories by Guyanese author Rooplall Monar. This was followed by the release of around one or two books a year, until the press was able to expand through the support of council grants, turning ‘the hobby into a business,’ as the publisher’s official website explains. Peepal Tree still completes all of their own typesetting and design work in-house, although they ceased to print their own books in 2010. Outsourcing this has allowed them to spend more time working with their authors and organising marketing activities—a development which is reflected in their growing number of titles, with the publisher producing 21 titles over 2020 so far and their output increasing year by year. They have also expanded into new ventures like their ‘New Caribbean Voices’ podcast, which provides a platform for in-depth author interviews, readings and information about upcoming releases.
Like many independent publishers, Peepal Tree Press faces a challenge in bringing their titles to the attention of readers within a saturated market. The difficulty of this task is exacerbated by their northern location, as Peepal Tree’s operations manager Hannah Bannister told The Bookseller: ‘Access to the market is restricted by not being in London, but also because some of the lead times demanded by the media or by booksellers don’t work for us. We don’t have a team of publicists and marketing people, but neither do we have a stream of interns knocking on our door up here – even if we could afford to pay them. Individually, we feel powerless to get the books noticed.’ As one of the founding members of The Northern Fiction Alliance, Peepal Tree Press has been a key player in supporting northern publishing and attempting to overcome these challenges, by moving away from traditional publishing centres.
However, Bannister also notes the advantages of Peepal Tree’s position, namely, that they take their lead from their writers rather than trying to cultivate certain types of books: ‘Often publishers are after a certain kind of book, to fit their lists, or to say something about diversity, but we want our writers to define that, and then we will try and find readers for them.’ This allows the press a certain freedom in what they publish, as demonstrated by their exciting range of genres and subject areas, which cover everything from historical fiction to travel writing. While there are clear obstacles faced by the publisher due to their size and location, the flexibility afforded by these same factors has clearly helped to enrich their publishing activity and allows the publisher to offer a more diverse range of books.
With a further 11 titles tipped for release this year, we look forward to seeing how Peepal Tree Press continues to develop!
One to Watch: Daylight Come by Diana McCauley (Published 24 September, 2020)
One of Peepal Tree Press’s most recent releases is Daylight Come, a futuristic climate-change novel that takes place on the Caribbean island of Bajacu. Set sixty-four years in the future, the novel centres around the plight of a young woman, Sorrel, and her mother Bibi, as they struggle to survive the oppressive society and destructive climate around them.
This novel feels very topical, especially at a time where our engagement with climate change is so critical. As one reviewer has already observed, it is also refreshing to see the topic addressed from a non-European perspective, imagining how the crisis will affect the Caribbean climate and its people. The focus on the relationship between mother and daughter will likely appeal to readers of Diane Cook’s Booker-nominated The New Wilderness (also a climate dystopia), although while Cook’s novel focuses on a protective parent, Daylight Come offers a poignant exploration of a daughter’s desperation to save her mother. The book is McCauley’s fifth novel and has already been shortlisted for the CODE Burt Award for Caribbean Young Adult Literature. Along with its promising concept, this is definitely one to look out for!