Radical and Disruptive, The Northern Fiction Alliance Signals Change

The atmosphere in Waterstones Deansgate in Manchester is positively electric, the room is crammed with people and the excitement is palpable. Around the room, tables are filled with copies of the latest works published by a range of Northern independent publishers including Comma Press, & Other Stories, Dead Ink, Blue Moose, and Peepal Tree Press.

Joining forces to give the London centric publishing monopoly a run for its money, these publishers have banded together to form the Northern Fiction Alliance, a collective designed to establish the North as a hive of creativity in UK publishing. Funded in part by the Arts Council, the aim is to create a strong network that can work together to do more social, outward facing activities and ride the current wave of economic uncertainty whilst promoting Northern England as a powerhouse for publishing.

Formed in 2016, the Northern Fiction Alliance’s purpose was to pool resources and contacts as well as establish relationships with international publishers and to use these relationships to promote authors across international stages and raise national awareness by making their work recognisable across the globe. Perhaps most importantly, the Northern Fiction Alliance’s goal was to position Northern writing and publishing as culturally distinct and to promote this globally by drawing strength from some of the most exciting cities in the UK. Led by Comma Press, the Northern Fiction Alliance is designed to showcase the amazingly diverse, creative spirit of Northern cities, so long a home for cultural revolutions in music, art, and design. From & Other Stories and Tilted Axis, both based in Sheffield, to Dead Ink in Liverpool, the innovative spirit of these cities permeates the ethos of this Alliance and sets it apart as a group of risk-taking writers and publishers who seek to drive a change and shake up the world of publishing.

The true beauty of the work showcased stems from its unabashed passion not only for the North but also for the promotion of diversity and finding work which expands our cultural and social boundaries. In turn, this gives readers a chance to widen their literary scope to include work from authors who push the limits of literature, writing about everything from pop culture in Bangkok to deliciously dark eroticism in Kolkata.

 It is no surprise that this movement is growing and the collective voice is getting stronger

Scanning the room, it was possible to find work set as far away as Seoul and as close to home as Leeds, truly showcasing the diversity of work made possible by a publishing ethos which focuses on merit rather than pleasing shareholders. The public’s desire for this kind of literary access is clearly evidenced by the sheer volume of people at this event. Nicki Smalley, in charge of publicity, marketing and sales for & Other Stories, attributes this enthusiasm to a sense of ownership created by local publishing and a feeling of excitement about supporting smaller, independent publishers and authors. This backlash against commercialism and corporate giants is not new however one can sense, not only from the publishers and authors in attendance but also the people who turned out to support the event, a real desire for change.

This may be in part political and indeed it would be remiss to assume that the desire to support smaller publishing presses doesn’t have as much to do with not supporting larger publishers who unscrupulously feed the capitalist machine with their outpourings of bland fiction and grisly ‘misery porn’ in the guise of the countless tales of child abuse crowding the shelves.

As Claire Malcolm, from Mayfly Press and the founding Chief Executive of New Writing North acknowledges, this political shift was, in many ways, inevitable because Northern independent publishing by its very nature challenges the status quo by seeking to disrupt the domination of the so-called ‘Big Five’ and the London centred industry. It is no surprise that this movement is growing and the collective voice is getting stronger, as Kevin Duffy from Blue Moose echoed in his stirring introduction for Heidi James, who gave a reading from her new work So The Doves, arguing that the growth of independent publishing demonstrates the positive change we as consumers can make by consciously spending our hard earned cash, by being selective and thoughtful about where we buy our books and by choosing to support smaller publishers and independent booksellers.

commitment to seeking out new, radical, and innovative writing

Graeme Macrae Burnett, shortlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2016 for His Bloody Project and winner of the Author of the Year 2017 award from the Sunday Herald, also gave a reading from his new book The Accident on the A35 published by Saraband. Graeme’s success is testament to the flexibility of independent publishing; his first novel The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau was widely rejected before being picked up by Saraband who were willing to publish the book because they loved it, despite its inability to be boxed into a particular genre.

This independence of thought, as well as financial independence, is vital in producing work from the margins, such as translations of work from writers like Prabda Yoon who’s collection The Sad Part Was is the only book in the country to be translated from the original Thai. Published by Tilted Axis, The Sad Part Was is part of a range of books chosen from across Asia, showcasing the talent of authors previously unseen within the UK fiction market. This commitment to seeking out new, radical, and innovative writing is at the heart of the Northern Fiction Alliance, as is approaching publishing from an ethical standpoint, whether that means working as a not for profit company, refusing to employ unpaid interns or committing to using ecologically sound, locally sourced materials, the presses here are all committed to creating an industry which thrives on its integrity.  

A reading from Naomi Booth’s Sealed, published by Dead Ink, is a poignant allegory for the Northern Fiction Alliance- out of the cultural ashes of celebrity cookbooks, slasher lit and ghost-written autobiographies here rises a phoenix, a beacon of hope in the bleakness of insipid fiction and unchallenging top 10 reading lists, these publishers are passionate and driven, publishing work from authors who are engaging, thought-provoking and talented. By seeking out work from the fringe and grounding themselves in the North, those involved in the Northern Fiction Alliance are at the forefront of a revolution in publishing and it’s a joy to behold.

You can find out more about the Northern Fiction Alliance and the publishers involved here.

Megan Kenny

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