Publisher of the Month: Two Ravens Press
Two Ravens Press began life in November 2006 and is operated out of a 6-acre croft on the shores of Loch Broom in the North-West Highlands by founders Sharon Blackie and David Knowles. Neither had any specific background in publishing when they began: Sharon had been in practice as a chartered psychologist specialising in narrative therapy and storytelling, and David was a Tornado pilot based at RAF Lossiemouth. However, they are both writers, they have a love of literature, and both found it increasingly difficult to find the kind of books they want to read in bookshops.
Sharon and David believed that there was room for another independent publisher. Fresh from an MA in Creative Writing, Sharon was all too aware of the bestseller culture that is rife in most contemporary publishing, whilst authors of high quality literary fiction and innovative literature struggle to find an outlet.
They have not been slow to fill the gap. In its first year, Two Ravens Press will have published twelve books. Of its five novels, three are by new authors (Lisa Glass, Peter Dorward and Tom Lappin) and two are by writers (Cynthia Rogerson, John McGill) who already have a publishing track record. Four poetry collections have been published, all first full collections by seasoned poets, including In a Room Darkened, by Kevin Williamson, founder of the legendary Rebel Inc publishing house. Riptide, an anthology of new writing from the Highlands and Islands, has received a good deal of positive attention and was described in The Scotsman as 'a force of creation, the kind of irresistible tide into which we should dip.' There have been two short story collections, one by first-time writer David Ross, and the other a first collection by novelist and Scotsman-Orange Prize winner Clio Gray. In 2008 Two Ravens Press will publish between 24 and 30 books, with 15 already scheduled to the end of June.
They make no bones about a very personal involvement in the company, in its aims and principles. 'Sometimes you just have to stand up and say what is important to you' the say– hence the unusual step of posting this publishing 'manifesto,' on their website, www.tworavenspress.com :
Everything that we publish, we publish with passion. We love each of our books. They say something about the author, they say something about us and they say something about the time and the place they were born into. Each book is a person we like being around. Because each, in its own way, fights back against formulas and homogenization, against the analgesic washing-out of colour that threatens to fade our bright thoughts.
And no, agreed, this battle-cry is not enough. We need to put substance behind it. We need tooling-up for the job. We want scalpels and spanners and great big wrenches; we want literature: literature that follows conventional narrative structures, or literature that goes beyond them. Innovative literature, beautiful and ugly literature that speaks of its time and its people. We want the beautiful that breaks your heart – the real one, not the mawkish, sentimental one that can grow in its place. We want clever – much cleverer than us – we want not-afraid-to-be-clever, we want something to aspire to in its entirety. Not the clever elements of a formula, and not the clever charlatans who hide behind 'clever' and disappear up their own backsides. If you want to write the same word end to end until the page is full – go ahead. We may well publish it. We are publishing such books – but only because there is a reason for the repetition: it means something. This is not a game. This is the Alamo. We want ideas, we want the language that Albert Camus demanded should 'disorientate and challenge us.' We want language as a rallying flag, as a sanctuary, a bayonet, a broom. This includes what Raymond Federman has referred to as 'surfiction' – the kind of fiction that explores the possibilities of fiction; that challenges the traditions that govern it; that reveals life as a fiction.
And yes, we want sales and we want profit. We want profit to create the space to think, to be able to publish the next titles. We want to reward writers who give us something to swim for in the torrent. But we won't compromise for profit. We won't hesitate to publish books which barely make a profit – if we believe them and believe that they need to be published.
The company has received a great deal of enthusiastic support from writers – especially in Scotland – who have found it hard to find publishers for their work because their work is considered to be insufficiently 'commercial.' And from writers who have a good publishing record but whose books are no longer believed to be quite so marketable or accessible in a bestseller-driven culture. A major article by Lesley McDowell, recently printed in The Herald's weekly arts magazine, described Two Ravens' approach as "a quiet publishing revolution."
The challenges for Two Ravens Press have been greater than they might appear, given the company's initial success. Back in November 2006, neither Sharon nor David knew anything about book production. What they did know was that they would not settle for anything less than the highest production standards. There then followed a frantic period of learning – about cover design (almost all of their covers are designed and produced in-house), typesetting (David typesets all the titles), contracts and a crash course in how the book retail market actually operates. It would have made an unbelievable piece of reality TV: Two Ravens Press accelerating from a standing start in November to an April launch of their first four books. Re-decorating a house in a weekend or landscaping a garden in a day really has nothing on 'creating a publishing company over Christmas!'
Having survived the stresses and strains of the set-up, Sharon and David are left in the enviable position of knowing every nut, bolt and widget of the press. This means that the overheads are within their control, allowing them to take risks with work that may or may not hit the mainstream. It also means that for authors lucky enough to fit the Two Ravens Press standards of quality and authenticity, the experience of being published has a human face. Authors who want to be involved with the fine detail of setting their work will find opportunity for direct dialogue. Covers can be worked and re-worked in hours rather than days or weeks. "We work very closely with our authors to make the physical book the most effective setting for their particular work."
The ongoing challenge is to persuade bookshops that there is indeed a market and a readership for books that are literary, for books that are challenging and different. Right from the outset Two Ravens Press were clear that both they and their writers would need large-scale distribution and exposure to make the venture viable. To build on local and direct internet sales they quickly arranged representation by Seol in Scotland and distribution through BookSource and Gardners. "Initial sales are encouraging, as is the supportive media coverage to date. We're convinced that the quality of our list will provide a sound foundation for this endeavour in the long term."
- Castings - - Paperback
A new collection of poems by Mandy Haggith, whose writing reflects her love for the land and her concern for the environment - not just in the North-West Highlands where she now lives on a woodland croft, but also in her travels around the world.
- Add to BasketHighland Views - - Paperback
This debut collection of stories from David Ross provides an original perspective on the Highlands, subtly addressing the unique combination of old and new influences that operate in the region today.
- Leaving The Nest - - Paperback
This collection of poetry represents a woman's journey into adulthood, through childbirth and motherhood and then on, as her children grow up, and passes into menopause and beyond.
- Love Letters From My Death-Bed - - Paperback
Cynthia Rogerson's second novel is a funny and life-affirming tale about the courage to love in the face of death.
- The Most Glorified Strip Of Bunting - - Paperback
The US North Polar expedition of 1871-1873 was a disaster-strewn adventure that counts amongst the most bizarre and exciting in the annals of Arctic exploration. John McGill's novel chronicles the events leading up to the strange and suspicious death of the exploration commander, Charles Francis Hall.
- Parties - - Paperback
A scathing, insightful and profoundly human commentary on party politics and the corrupting effects of power, 'Parties' is a black comedy about young people getting older who are learning to be careful what they wish for - lest they end up finding it.
- Prince Rupert's Teardrop - - Paperback
Meghranoush - a 94 year-old survivor of the Armenian genocide of the early 20th century - has vanished. Her daughter Mary tries to search for her missing mother, amid rumours of a monster stalking the area. Has she been abducted or has she ran away trying to escape the demons in her mind?
- Riptide: New Writing From The Highlands And Islands - Paperback
This diverse collection of new fiction and poetry from the Highlands and Islands showcases the work of established writers and new names to watch.
- Types Of Everlasting Rest - - Paperback
From Italy and Russia in the time of Napoleon, to the fate of the boy scouts in Czechoslovakia during the Second World War, Clio Gray's short stories are filled with intrigue, conspiracy and murder.