Independent Press Profile: Sandstone Press

In light of the current lack of bookshops, I’m starting a new series in which I profile my favourite independent publishers. These are some of the most exciting addresses when it comes to finding original ideas, literature in translation and voices that are underrepresented in the mainstream. Each one is more than deserving of support – and not just in times of crisis.

First in the Independent Press Profile series is Sandstone Press.

Sandstone Press Celestial Bodies

Let’s start with the basics: when, where and who.

Independent Scottish publisher Sandstone Press was founded in 2002 by Managing Director Robert Davidson. Together with Publishing Director Moira Forsyth, he has overseen the growth of the press from a small start-up specialising in poetry pamphlets to the wide-ranging and highly regarded publisher that it is today. Along the way they concentrated on books for adult learners and outdoors-focused non-fiction, eventually expanding into fiction and translation from 2010. Originally based in Dingwall, they have stayed true to their Highland roots and are now to be found in Inverness.

Where have I heard that name before?

Sandstone Press has garnered a lot of attention in recent years. Named Saltire Society Publisher of the Year in 2014, they have also been storming the prize lists since their move into fiction, beginning with a Booker Prize longlisting for Jane Roger’s The Testament of Jessie Lamb in 2011, which was followed in close order by Eve Harris’s The Marrying of Chani Kaufman in 2013. Perhaps their greatest triumph, though, came in 2019, when Omani author Jokha Alharthi’s Celestial Bodies, translated from the Arabic by Marilyn Booth, won the International Booker Prize.

What’s the publishing philosophy?

From small beginnings, Sandstone Press has developed an ‘international outlook’ and prides itself on its wide range of titles and representation of unique voices. High editorial standards are one of their major selling points – the vast majority of the work is done in-house – and because everyone does judge books by their covers, they put an enormous amount of care into design and production. Sandstone Press titles are just as eye-catching on the outside as they are within.

What can I expect to find in the catalogue?

While there’s no poetry in the catalogue any more, you’ll find pretty much everything in the realms of fiction and non-fiction. The press publishes around thirty titles a year, leaning perhaps a little more towards the fiction side of things. As well as crime, literary fiction, historical fiction and short stories, you’ll find an array of non-fiction titles that are particularly strong on nature and travel writing, but also foray into fields such as music, sport and biography. Right from the very beginning, Sandstone Press has also done a lot to promote Scottish writing, whether that comes in the form of crime novels by Scottish writers or books about regional wildlife and travel.

What about literature in translation?

It’s a small but hopefully growing concern at Sandstone, obviously bolstered by their success in the International Booker. At the moment, the translation section consists mainly of crime novels, such as those by Norwegian author Jorn Lier Horst and popular German writer Volker Kutscher.

Can I buy books directly from the publisher?

Absolutely! In an exciting turn of events, Sandstone Press has recently launched an online shop where you can browse their catalogue to your heart’s content. Shipping is currently only available to the UK and Ireland, but do stay tuned to see if they’ll be expanding that service. As well as helpfully organising their books by category – including the likes of Scottish Fiction, Translated Fiction and Travel & Nature Writing – you can take advantage of curated deals like ‘The Big Bad Crime Bundle’, which offers a significant saving. The Sandstone Press shop is also home to a stroke of marketing genius: the ‘Packed Launch’. Created in response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has seen book launches cancelled left, right and centre, the Packed Launch includes a hardback copy of the newly released book, a surprise paperback that is somehow related, and a selection of treats which may include bookplates and snacks. For me, this is another brilliant example of the innovation that drives so many of these small presses.

Any particular recommendations?

Celestial Bodies was the first book I read from the International Booker Prize longlist back in 2019, and I was delighted to see it eventually walk away with the trophy. A highly unusual novel charting the lives of three generations of women in Oman, it offers an intimate glimpse into a culture that few people get to encounter. Having travelled to Oman myself several years ago, I absolutely loved it, and Marilyn Booth’s translation is a work of wonderful nuance. In terms of non-fiction, I’m very excited at the prospect of reading C. J. Schüler’s Along the Amber Route, a book that combines travel and history in describing the traditional amber trade route between the Mediterranean and the Baltic while incorporating elements of the author’s family history. Another recent title to have caught my eye is Marram, Leonie Charlton’s memoir of horse-riding in the Hebrides as she examines her relationship with her mother.

What’s on the horizon?

While the new online shop was big news for Sandstone this year, there are plenty of other exciting events on the horizon. May and June will see the publication of several novels, including Lesley Glaister’s latest work of historical fiction, Blasted Things, plus a handful of non-fiction titles including the prescient-sounding Negative Capability: A Diary of Surviving. Events might have been cancelled for the time being, but the Sandstone Press team are prolific writers and you can keep up to date with all the news on their social media channels and blog. The latter is a rich source of inspiration, featuring book reviews, group reading guides and personalised recommendations from members of staff.

If you have a favourite independent press you’d like to see profiled, please let me know in the comments – the best recommendations always come by word of mouth!

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