Caught by the River

On Independent Publishers

Sue Brooks | 23rd January 2017

Words: Sue Brooks

There has been plenty of optimism on Caught by the River these last two months – Reflections sparkling over Shadows in ways that gladden the heart. There can never be enough. Hearts get quickly depleted these days – well, I notice mine does.

Independent publishing is a great success story, and one which Caught by the River has championed – Corbel Stone for example, and Clutag – and sometimes collaborated with – Little Toller Books. Last year I was introduced to two lesser-known publishers in Cornwall – Atlantic Press, and Guillemot Press. Atlantic has been sailing since 1998, Guillemot is a fledgling of a single year. Shipments from Atlantic arrive via Royal Mail, hand-written with the Cabin number clearly displayed on the distinctive logo (a four stack steamship). There is no need to advise Handle With Care, it is done instinctively. These are small works of art, the dimensions of my hand or a good sized coat pocket, 20 pages of prose or poetry and illustrations. Equal attention is given to the text and the illustrations. This is the Cornish hallmark.

Atlantic Press was set up to encourage “authorial illustration” in conjunction with the course of the same name at Falmouth University. The artist’s personal voice side by side with the author’s: overlapping, interweaving, creating something infinitely greater than the sum of the parts. Attention is paid to the finest detail. Each copy, for example, of the clearing (author, Luke Thompson, illustrator Mairead Dunne) is unique. The tumbling birds on the cover have been hand-stamped in varying patterns by the illustrator. There is another delightful touch with all the books available from Atlantic Press – every time a new book is in preparation, an icon is commissioned to represent it. These signatures are no more than one centimetre square – and printed in rows on the back page of each copy. A history of a publishing house in 30 icons. The one for the clearing shows a concert pianist seated at a piano shaped like the front end of The Titanic. Irresistible to anyone with a collector’s instinct.

Guillemot Press has a different flight path, proudly exploring new grounds. There are five titles so far. Sumptuously beautiful small books in limited editions. “We publish illustrated poetry and single-story pamphlets, postcards, plays and full collections “– this Guillemot has big, bold ideas, I think, and I applaud them. A brave enterprise has been launched into the teeth of the corporate publishing world; it has beauty and simplicity at its heart and enthusiasm to carry it through to its second year. ( For anyone running on their reserve optimism tank, I would strongly recommend the NEWS section of the website.)

The Curlew is different in the sense of not being a publishing venture, but the same in fledging status and enthusiasm. A new magazine devoted to writing about the natural world has taken its debut flight. The editor is based in Ceredigion, W. Wales, but has connections worldwide. The format is unusual: the introductory essay is an extract from Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. An old and much-loved favourite from my student days, and as brilliant and powerful and wise as when I first discovered it. An excellent choice for the first Classic Essay feature of the magazine. There will also be a section for writers under the age of 16.

Other contributors provide a rich and varied mix of poetry and short prose pieces and very fine black and white illustrations and photographs. Miriam Darlington’s Place of Peewits moved me deeply, as did the harrowing story After the Eviction by Grace Wells, but the most remarkable and memorable of all has been The Crossing by Allyson Stack. Two pages evoking a woman’s short walk in the dark with a baby and toddler. The edge of pathos, a crossing from fear to full consciousness. Writing that makes the hairs prickle on the back of the neck. Marvellous.

All profit from sales of The Curlew will be donated to conservation projects, and this is also true of some Atlantic Press publications – for example Stone, (poet Em Strang and illustrator Mat Osmond) which supports Trees For Life – restoring the Caledonian Forest, a deeply satisfying thing to know when holding a high-quality paper book.

All three enterprises are open to new ideas and submissions and can be contacted online.

Sue Brooks on Caught by the River