For me, independent publishers are the people in the industry who are prepared to take risks on new authors and books where the larger players either don’t wish to venture, or where they can’t see there being a return on. Each month in 2018 I am aiming to highlight some of my favourite independent publishers, along with some of their books that I have loved and also to have someone from the publisher answer a few questions. This month is the turn of Parthian
I had first come across Parthian because of the author John Harrison. Confusingly, there are two travel writers of that name, but this John Harrison is particularly good. The first of his that I read just over five years ago was Cloud Road. This is about his travels through the Inca Heartland as he hikes along the Camino Real. This 500-year-old road visiting villages where life has not changed in centuries. Managed to get hold of a copy of Where the Earth Ends which is about his travels in the landscape of Patagonia where we learn about the history and the people that he meets. Forgotten Footprints is very different from his previous books as it is more about the history Antarctica and the individuals that have been drawn to this harsh part of the world.
I was fortunate enough to be sent a copy of 1519 by Parthian. This is about another trip out to South America and he deftly weaves history with travel writing, but there are personal elements to this as we learn about his cancer diagnosis and treatment. If you do get a chance to read any of his books, they are well worth it, he is a writer of quality.
On my radar are A Van of One’s (mentioned below) and Seven Days which I will get hold of at some point. I have just bought a copy (signed!!) of Insufficiently Welsh which I am looking forward to. I haven’t ventured into their fiction offering, but Burrard Inlet looks really good from my perusal through the catalogue.
Eddie at Parthian Book was kind enough to answer the questions below:
Can you tell me a little about the history of Parthian?
Parthian will have been publishing for twenty-five years in 2018 so we’re looking back and seeing if it’s all been worth it. It has been a time of many emotions. Publishing is about hope and communication. The idea to make public, ideas and stories. We’ve published books that stay with you, become part of a shared culture and some that are forgotten quickly as they fail to find a hold and are hidden as the fall of new words turns with every year.
Rhys Davies Trust has been a constant for us with other work and projects through the twenty-five years and is now supporting the Modern Wales series. The Prince’s Youth Business Trust was crucial in the initial development of the venture with training and finance.
Major supporters, once we got going, were first the Arts Council of Wales and then the Welsh Books Council with their many services to develop publishing in Wales. And then with devolution and a Welsh Government the Library of Wales project, now reaching fifty titles, has been a ground-breaking series edited with talent and ambition by Dai Smith.
This year at twenty-five, we’re having a quick look back, but publishing is always about the future and this catalogue brings another year of books published by Parthian.
How do you go about choosing the titles to be included in your portfolio?
What we look for are voices that bring something distinct to the table. This can come from anywhere and take any form. We look for prose or poetry that feels like it comes from an authentic place, grounded in what the author is trying to communicate. These are the stories that stay with you. We will always be especially keen on Welsh stories and authors that bring a different perspective on Wales or identify an overlooked aspect of the country. When publishing works in translation or stories from outside of Wales, we look for a tactile sense of place, imagery that immerses the reader in that specific time and location.
Tell me about your process after selecting a book for publication
Once a book is chosen by our commissioning editor, we send a contract to the author’s agent (or to the author directly in some cases). Once the contract is signed, we move on to the editing phase. This pairs an editor with the author to collaborate on putting together the best iteration possible of that story. This means that the first read through by the editor includes some large-scale suggestions (if warranted) which she or he discusses with the author. Then the editor reads through again, making more granular notes (extending a scene here, deleting a line there) which will strengthen the structure, tone, or themes of the story. Once the editor and author are done with the manuscript, it’s sent to a proofreader who goes through it with a fine-toothed comb and catches typos. Then, it is sent to the typesetter, and once it is type-set, the editor and/or proofreader will review the copy to ensure it is devoid of errors. Then, it is sent to the printer for its initial print run. Sometimes, proof copies are ordered and sent to reviewers after the type-set version is approved and before the final print copies are received.
What is the company philosophy when it comes to selecting for your catalogue?
When selecting books for our catalogue, we ask whether it aligns with our mission. Does it excite us? Does it tell a story we haven’t heard before? Does it reveal something new about Wales? Europe? Abroad? Is there a strong voice at its centre? These questions are our guiding criteria that we investigate the story with. We are confident that if a story is well-told and comes from a distinct voice, it will find its audience. We do not try to reverse engineer a hit based on our readership. We read something that strikes us and we commission accordingly.
What book do you wish you had published?
My pick is George Saunders’ debut novel Lincoln in the Bardo which won the Man Booker Prize. Saunders is arguably the greatest living short story writer, so having his first novel would’ve been having a piece of history. Would also have loved to get tips on beard-growing from the man.
Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea Quartet. Or Marlon James’s forthcoming Dark Star trilogy, I think it will be a landmark in new, diverse fantasy fiction.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera.
It’s down to all of the involvement I’ve had in translated literature recently which has made me think a lot about translations I’ve enjoyed. I think this one was one of the first I read as a teenager and, like many others, I read at the time (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Camus etc) I didn’t consider it as translated, probably because it was so brilliantly and seamlessly done – the mark of a great translation. (Also, I just love the whole concept of the book, each character and its perfect ending).
This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kaye and Aaron’s Rod by D.H. Lawrence.
What would you say were the undiscovered gems in your catalogue?
Our undiscovered gem is debut author Lloyd Markham’s Bad IdeasChemicals. This novel is one part social satire and one part fantasy adventure with a would-be planet hopper, an open mic player, and a prototypical lad banding together for a ‘bad’ night out. Despite a recent nomination for the Wales Book of the Year Fiction Award, it’s still largely undiscovered, with only 200 copies sold. We anticipate that’ll grow once the word spreads.
How is the company organised today and how many people work for you?
The company is primarily based in Swansea and Cardiff, but has staff across south Wales. The publisher, Richard Lewis Davies, and editor, Susie Wild, work in Cardiff and frequently correspond with the main office in Swansea that is managed by Maria Zygogianni. Maria manages a team of interns that primarily come through Swansea University where the office is housed. The financial wing of the company is managed by Financial Director Gill Griffiths out of Cardigan, where other freelancers are based.
How much effort goes into the design of the book, for example the cover design, font selection and so on?
Each cover is designed from scratch, with the content of the book and the demographics of the audience taken into consideration. Cover design is entrusted to expert freelancers who have collaborated with Parthian for several years. If a book is part of a series, such as the Library of Wales, there are common banners, logos, and fonts used with which the designer matches with an evocative image that coalesces with the placement of text. Books that are not part of a series have a greater range of parameters, yet a common aesthetic can be seen throughout our titles – one that makes books stand out on a shelf but are not screaming at the reader.
Are there any up and coming books that you are publishing soon that we need to look out for?
A novel recently released is The Golden Orphans by Gary Raymond. This literary thriller is set in Cyprus and written with a grounded sense of place and history. The author channelled his literary influence of Graham Greene to deliver a compelling, thoughtful meditation on identity and obsession.
I, Eric Ngalle is a new memoir by author Eric Ngalle, a Cameroonian former refugee currently based in Cardiff. Eric’s new book tells of his journey from Cameroon to Wales. Written in his distinct voice, one with equal parts suffering and hope, Eric describes the years he was detained in Russia, not knowing if he’d ever get out. His story sheds light on contemporary Wales, and the piece of himself he left behind.
A work in translation from the Basque Country out this year is Her Mother’s Hands. This novel by Karmele Jaio is an examination of the deepest human bonds and a beautiful and moving tribute to life. The precarious balance in the life of Nerea, a thirty-something journalist, breaks down when her mother, Luisa, is hospitalised with total amnesia. Luisa is haunted by memories of a romance from her youth and soon Nerea begins to discover that the two women share much more than they believe.
What debut authors are you publishing this year?
Ironopolisis the debut novel from a talented young writer called Glen James Brown. This book is set in North East England and weaves together six stories from working class characters experiencing the collapse of their council estate. It explores collective memory, masculinity, the housing crisis, and cultural heritage through lived-in characters.
A talented young poet called Mari Ellis Dunning is releasing her debut collection titled Salacia. This accomplished collection is a contemporary reflection on mental health, mythology, love and loss. Salacia offers a stark and honest exploration of human nature and our fallibility, where the dark and sombre moments in life are as precious as the uplifting ones.
How did you come across them?
We come across debut authors in a range of ways. In the case of Ironopolis, we had the good fortune of receiving a query from the author’s literary agent, then read the full manuscript and signed on. Other authors we discover through submissions sent in hard copy to our Swansea office and read by our team. Still others we’ve made personal contact with, then discovered they had a book project that was in alignment with Parthian’s aesthetic.
What title of yours has been an unexpected success?
We were confident that Biddy Wells’ A Van of One’s Own was a quality book, and we were delighted to find just how much it resonated with readers. It tells the story of how, propelled by a thirst for peace and quiet, for a modest adventure and, perhaps, for freedom, Biddy left for Portugal on her own, with only her old campervan, Myfanwy, and her GPS, Tanya, for company.
A Van of One’s Own is a journey through the breath-taking scenery of France, Spain, and finally Portugal, populated by colourful characters and the roar of the ocean, the taste of fresh fish and the grind of the asphalt; but more importantly, it is a journey through past memories and present conflicts to inner peace.
How do you use social media for promoting books and authors?
Our social media presence on Facebook and Twitter is driven by the mission to situate Parthian within a collaborative community of readers, writers, editors, and administrators. We find ways to connect our authors with current events being covered in other media, such as how we’ve coupled promotion of Ironopolis, a working class novel, with The Guardian’s stories about working class and the arts. Another example is linking our new biography of Welsh suffragettes, Rocking the Boat, with the Processions 2018 public artwork that commemorates the women’s suffrage centenary. Through this collaborative approach, we increase the scope of our media reach and widen the context. We supplement this strategy with posts about individual author’s readings as well as book reviews and blogposts, in addition to posting live-feeds from events and recaps thereafter.
Is working with book bloggers becoming a larger part of that process now?
Book bloggers are an important part of getting early reviews for new releases. We’ve incorporated several book bloggers into our reviewer list and they’ve provided quality, timely reviews that have aided in promotion of the book. We anticipate growing this network even more, because of the expanding influence of bloggers with their audience and the importance of word-of-mouth support which is essential to the success of books published from independent presses.
What does the future hold for Parthian?
The future for Parthian includes further situating Wales within a global context. One way we do this is through our Carnival of Voices in translation from a wider Europe including recent work from the Basque Country, and the Baltic countries. These works help introduce Welsh and UK audiences to authors from regions of the world they’d not otherwise read, places like Greece, Malta, and Slovakia. It also builds partnerships with the home countries literary organisations and readerships, as in the case of Latvia, through which we published three volumes of poetry in 2018.
We will also continue to give new authors their first publishing opportunity. This has proven core to our identity as an independent publisher and has led to several successes such as Alys Conran and her Wales Book of the Year-winning Pigeon. We will continue to find diverse, vibrant perspectives that bring a distinctly Welsh perspective to the world or bring a distinctly global perspective to Wales. Sometimes both. The Carnival of Voices will evolve to include all voices that have been marginalised because of mental illness, race, sexual orientation, and displacement. Publishing stories from these margins is how we will continue to push literature in Wales forward.
A big thank you to Maria at Parthian for making time at fairly short notice to answer those questions for me. I really appreciate it. If you do want their books, get them direct from the website or I would urge you to buy them from an independent bookshop as you can as this supports them, the publisher and of course the author with one purchase.
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