Leila Sackur is a recent graduate in History from the University of Cambridge. She is interested in everyday life, gentrification and urban space. At university, Leila was involved in the student press and politics. She is a freelance writer who enjoys reading and writing narrative-non fiction. @baby_____lei
As an intern at BookBlast, part of my role includes spending some time sifting through the archives of our online journal. What content have we put up recently . . . is there anything I can change or add to . . . would this or that article we published in 2017 be interesting to new Twitter and Facebook followers now, and who might have missed out? I like this activity. It’s interesting to spend time reading over our backlog of posts; piecing together the digital footprint of the work done for BookBlast Diary since it first went live in 2016.
We’re currently in an in-between phase where it’s been exactly one year since the first BookBlast 10×10 Tour, and a year to go until our next one. ICYMI, last year we collaborated with Waterstones to bring together ten independent publishers, their authors and translators, and showcase them across the UK in ten cities.
It was the first tour of its kind to put the publishers behind some of the finest independent literature and poetry being published right now on the front line. As Sam Jordison from Galley Beggar Press pointed out, “The tour got our authors into a shop we’ve never been able to do an event in. It got our books into the window of the shop.”
Being on tour allowed us to explore and discuss cities, regions and themes broader than the London-centric mainstream industry usually allows at events in the capital. Comma Press, based in Manchester, had their authors Chris Rose and Ian Duhig discussing the cities of Birmingham and Leeds, and their distinct literary subcultures, at an event in Waterstones Leeds. The inclusion of translators and discussion of unusual works in translation, such as The House of Remembering and Forgetting by Filip David translated from the Serbian by Christina Pribićević-Zorić (Istros Books), and The Crime of Father Amaro by Eça de Queiroz translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa (Dedalus Books), effectively engaged audiences in discussions of memory, migration and diaspora. The tour was underpinned by a desire to represent and reflect the internationalism and growing diversity of the industry itself.
BookBlast’s celebration of independent publishing began in 2016 with exclusive interviews and reviews in the BookBlast Diary. In its broad focus and wide reach, the diary widens access to the world of radical independent publishing. It is very much in the spirit of BookBlast’s mission since its inception in 1997: to break creative ideas and good writing into the mainstream.
Taking stock of movements and changes in the industry in the months since our tour, it is easy to see that we are on to something. Featured books on the tour, including Shatila Stories, translated from the Arabic by Nashwa Gowanlock, (Peirene Press) have been longlisted for the EBRD international literary prize. A month or so after the tour ended, in December 2018, the Bookseller announced a new prize category – “Small Press of the Year” – in the British Book Awards 2019. The shortlist, announced in February this year, included 6 out of 10 publishers on our tour.
It’s been wonderful to see these publishers and writers being given the recognition they deserve by the mainstream industry. Indeed, similar such tours are springing up all over the country. Just last week, the Republic of Consciousness Prize partnering with Impress announced a series of regional events, showcasing and chaired by independent publishers, a format pioneered by BookBlast last year.
This legacy is really important to us: in creating a movement of tours where independent publishers, authors and writers can communicate directly with booksellers and readers, we are attempting to demonstrate to readers and to the public that it is people who are publishing original and unconventional books – not anonymous, faceless “publishing houses.”
As a recent graduate from university looking to build a career in writing and print publishing, before coming across BookBlast, I was exclusively looking for work with the classic big publishers because they were all I had heard of. I was obsessed with the Penguin Random House graduate scheme; dreaming up opportunities with Bloomsbury and HarperCollins. The only independent publishers I knew about were Faber and Faber and Verso. Interning for BookBlast has been a formative experience. Learning about womens’ collectives and publishers such as Les Fugitives has underscored how publishing can be radical in practice as well as in output, and its practices provide a stark contrast to publishing houses willing to co-opt and commercialize social movements such as feminism for profit, but are in practice dominated by the pale, male and stale.
Being able to work with, interview and promote independent writers and publishers killing the game via BookBlast – especially through the BookBlast Diary – has been a wonderful experience. BookBlast’s work is integral to improving access for readers to independents; our Diary is freely available (although voluntary donations are always appreciated!) and, if you’re willing to lose an entire afternoon to scrolling the archive, it features a wealth of interviews and reviews.
In an industry so increasingly focused on profits and paywalls, I’m aware that working for a company with guiding ethics and values is something of a rare privilege.
So what’s in the pipeline for BookBlast? As mentioned earlier, planning is in the works for our next nationwide tour in 2020 (so subscribe and watch this space!!). Later this month we’ll be discussing St Lucian writers and writing with John Robert Lee, as well as a special feature and podcast on Thai writing with Narisa Charabongse at River Books.
In the meantime, I encourage you to “take a scroll” of our free archive – the breadth and range of writing and profiles on BookBlast reflects well the broadness and diversity of independent publishing today.
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