In 2016 the Clapham Book Festival explored the links between Place & the Writer, with the focus on Clapham and what seemed to be its longstanding connection with writing. To aid that discussion we identified fifty five Clapham writers of note and national reputation (including one who sailed on the Mayflower) and there are, no doubt, many, many more of lesser fame. The tradition of writing in Clapham continues today and the growing list of local authors and writers associated with the Book Festival reflects this, but there are also other indicators of this local literary phenomenon, one of which is independent publishing.
There are a number of established small to medium-sized publishers around or near the Common. These include specialist publishers like Breslich & Foss (cookery & crafts, founded 1978), Jawbone aka Outline Press (music books, 2007) and Grub Street (cookery and military aviation – yes, an unusual combination – 1982). There are publishers of non-fiction, like Plexus Books and Sheldrake Press (est.1991) publishers of magazines, like Alliance and Cravenhill and online publishers like 451 Life. Michael O’Mara Books (mainly non-fiction but some children’s fiction ) has been going since the eighties. Momaya Press, based around an annual short story competition and the subsequent publication of the winning stories was founded in 2004. I met with Monisha Saldana, one of Momaya’s founders in 2016 ( see Book People ).
One of the later additions is Claret Press, a very small, or ’boutique’ press run by Katie Isbester, with a stable of eight authors. A Canadian Londoner, Katie worked for twenty-five years on contracts with publishing houses, both large and small, as well as independent authors. She founded Claret Press in 2015 after realizing that some very good writers were not getting published. It miffed her and she decided to do something about it ( see To Cut a Short Story Long ).
Claret Press is at the tricky transition point. moving from micro-publishing to becoming a larger business and Katie’s been considering how to do this. It is not just a case of changing one’s distributor, I was told, when we met last week – although that might help – but it’s more a question of doing things differently. One tactic is to use social media more, yet Claret Press already has a web-site, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Google+ presence. Katie is currently exploring the better use of metadata, so that her books are recognised and travel up the algorithm-mandated rankings more quickly.
Publishing isn’t the only literary related business which can be found in Clapham. There are a number of well established literary agencies, like Knight Features, and individual agents. There are editors and consultants, like Roz Morris, or Clapham Publishing Services and music, TV and film are well represented too. As regular readers will know the founder of The Times newspaper lived on the North Side of the Common ( see A Walk on the Wild Side ) and there are still plenty of journalists who live around here.
The ONS figures from the Annual Business Survey are unhelpful, however, in allowing comparison of the numbers involved in writing and publishing in Clapham with elsewhere in London and the UK, partly because Clapham falls under the aegis of two different local authorities and partly because the detailed data isn’t freely available. Doubtless central London would out-shine all, but it would be interesting to see where Clapham stood in relation to, say, Hampstead or Ealing. Something to follow up in future perhaps.
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