Good morning everyone I’m going to be running an occasional new feature, called Publishers In The Spotlight (ok it’s not very original, but it’s the best I come up with!). First up its Moth, New Writing North’s Chief Executive Claire Malcolm explains how the arts organisation founded Mayfly Press and the Moth imprint.
The decision to found a new publishing house for writers in the north came about in a roundabout way for New Writing North. We’re first and foremost the writing development agency for writers in the north and in this role we manage and produce an array of opportunities for writers and work in partnership with broadcasters, publishers and producers to make good things happen for writers. As part of our programme we also produce Crime Story, the innovative conference for crime writers and readers with Northumbria University.
For many years we’ve run the Northern Writers’ Awards, a funding programme that supports new and established writers to pursue and complete new work. For a while the awards were sponsored by Paul Callaghan, a local digital entrepreneur and philanthropist. As the sponsorship drew to a close I took a number of our winning writers to lunch with Paul so that he could catch up with what they were doing and hear more about the work that his sponsorship had supported. It was a lovely lunch but during it a number of the writers told Paul how frustrating they were finding it trying to place their work. As we were leaving Paul said to me ‘we should publish some of this work’. Roll forward a year or so and we had created the idea of founding a joint publishing operation with Business Educational Publishers a trade-publishing house that Paul owned. New Writing North invested a little money into the start up and Business Educational Publishers invested a little more to help the venture get off the ground and we founded a partnership.
Moth was born and along with it the first Northern Crime Competition. We wanted to open out publishing opportunities to new writers and to use our publishing resources to launch new talent. We had a good response to the first competition and went on to publish four winners – Helen Cadbury, Rebecca Muddiman, Alfie Crow and Michael Donnovan. We were on a really steep learning curve when we published our first four books – we employed editors, developed contracts, learnt about digital publishing and made some headway into distribution. We were lucky to work with some great people along the way who helped us work out what we were doing.
Rebecca’s book took off quickly, closely followed by Helen’s and we were delighted with how our sales went over the first year. We also developed a partnership for selling foreign and audio rights that enhanced what we could offer writers. We helped both Helen and Rebecca find literary agents and through them they both went on to sign good contracts for their work with bigger publishers and have now published many more books and are building good careers for themselves as crime writers. We are realistic about how as a small publisher you often can’t afford to keep some of the writers that you discover in the long term.
To find our next wave of new writers we ran the second Northern Crime Competition and also opened entries for short stories. Entries for the second competition weren’t as strong overall and in the end we found one novel that we wanted to publish by the Leeds based writer Kathleen McKay.
The entries for the short story element of the competition were strong and we enjoyed putting together Northern Crime One our first collection of short stories that we launched in December 2015. We did some great events with the anthology – the sell out crowd for our Newcastle City Library launch was a highlight and it was wonderful to meet lots of the featured writers, especially as many were seeing their work in print for the first time.
Hard Wired, by our competition winner Kathleen McKay was published this August – it’s a gritty contemporary crime novel based around a bail hostel in Newcastle. It’s Kath’s first venture into crime though she has written literary fiction and poetry before. We’re excited to see how it does.
Towards the end of 2015 Moth made our first two-book deal with the author Benjamin Myers. I knew Ben’s literary work and thought that he was an amazing writer. We were working with Ben on a poetic commission tied to Durham Book Festival and during one of our conversations he mentioned that he was writing a crime novel. I was excited by the idea that Ben was turning his hand to this genre and knew that it would be something very special. I asked to read some of the work out of interest and when Ben sent me the first few chapters I was blown away.
Moth made a pre-emptive bid for the novel via his agent and we were delighted to agree a two-book deal. The first novel, Turning Blue was launched this August and brings to readers the unlikely crime solving duo Brindle and Mace – a detective and a local journalist. Turning Blue is dark, deep and beautifully written. I found it compulsive to read and loved the way that Ben has taken on a crime story but placed it so deeply into a specific location and community. Ben talks about his crime writing as being ‘folk crime’ and it rings true to me. The reviews so far have been very appreciative. He’s currently working on the next Brindle and Mace book that we hope to bring to publication in summer 2017.
Alongside Moth we also run the Mayfly Books imprint which so far has concentrated on bringing important northern writer’s work back into print. Again, beginning this imprint was partially accidental and driven by the love of books. We began by republishing Julia Darling’s wonderful novel Crocodile Soup in 2015 to coincide with the anniversary of her death. I’d know Julia and her work for many years and had always loved Crocodile Soup so it was a humbling experience to be able to bring it back for a new generation of readers. It’s a northern classic but also a wonderful comic lesbian love story. The novel was longlisted for the Orange prize and it was shameful that it had fallen out of print.
This September we are publishing Hame, My Durham a collection of work by the acclaimed County Durham writer Sid Chaplin, collated by his son the writer Michael Chaplin who has also written a commentary to accompany the work which gives an overview of Sid’s life and traces the influences of his real life experiences on his writing. Again, this feels like an important book to be bringing to readers and demonstrates our commitment to keeping northern voices alive and accessible.
To find the next wave of books for Moth we’re currently hosting an open submission period where writers and agents can submit work for consideration. We’re primarily interested in supporting northern writers but we are open to other suggestions too as the imprint grows and develops. If you’re a budding writer looking for a publisher the details are included in the links below
We’re currently looking at how the publishing house can grow and develop in a way that supports New Writing North but also makes sense as a business. So far the partnership is working well for New Writing North. Profits generated from the first few years of the operation have been fed back into supporting our core work supporting writers. At a time when arts organisations need to be innovative and enterprising about how they raise money we have found Moth and Mayfly to be both a great way to do that but also a fantastic way to support writers to develop their work and grow their careers. Publishing isn’t without risk and balancing that can be challenging but it’s an exciting proposition all the same.
New Writing North
Northern Writers’ Awards
Durham Book Festival
Northern Crime One