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.
Second in the Independent Press Profile series is Linen Press.
Let’s start with the basics: when, where and who.
Stepping into the void left by the demise of The Women’s Press, the small but strong Linen Press was founded in 2005 by author and editor Lynn Michell. In a moment of true serendipity, ninety-three-year-old Marjorie Wilson joined Michell’s Edinburgh writing group and revealed a rare talent for memoir. Childhood’s Hill, a fascinating glimpse into life at the turn of the century, had been rejected by several of the large UK publishers, but Michell resolved to give it an audience. After working on every stage of the procedure, from manuscript editing to cover design and launch planning, Michell found herself hooked on the publishing process and began to grow Linen Press into the committed venture it is today. Pretty much a one-woman band – Michell still does just about everything, aided by an editorial assistant and a small team of freelancers and part-time interns scattered across the globe – it’s a fascinating example of how a small press can be dynamic, focused and truly international.
Where have I heard that name before?
In its own right, Linen Press has been stealthily creeping into the prize lists over the years, including being a 2015 finalist for the Pandora Women in Publishing Prize and a 2019 shortlist contender for the Saboteur Award for Innovative Publisher. The talents of its authors have also been recognised on multiple occasions, including Avril Joy taking Best Achievement Award at the 2017 People’s Book Prize for her novel Sometimes a River Song, which was also longlisted for the Guardian’s Not The Booker Prize, among others. Way back in its early days, you may have noticed Linen Press giving the competition a run for its money with inaugural title Childhood’s Hill becoming a Blackwell’s bestseller, even ousting Ian Rankin from the top spot (no mean feat in Edinburgh).
What’s the publishing philosophy?
As the only UK-wide independent women’s press, the philosophy of Linen Press seems pretty clear at first glance. But while founder Lynn Michell does say that when it comes to women in publishing ‘there is no equal playing field here yet’, Linen Press is about more than just championing excellent writing by women. This is a publishing house where high quality and innovation really do count, and where authors and readers are joined by a shared appreciation of ‘the power and magic of words’. It’s also an outward-looking venture in every aspect of the publishing process, from the team of remote-working interns dotted around the globe to its international list of authors.
What can I expect to find in the catalogue?
Linen Press tends overwhelmingly to literary fiction, with a healthy dose of memoir thrown in for good measure. Three or four titles are published in paperback and digital each year, all of which are written by women on subjects pertaining to women’s lives. Michell aims to showcase writing that challenges mainstream commercial fiction, with a heavy emphasis on beautifully crafted novels and challenging stories. When it comes down to it, it seems that Linen Press books really aim to make their readers think – about both life and the art of literature itself.
What about literature in translation?
At the time of writing, literature in translation doesn’t feature large in the Linen Press catalogue, though they are always on the lookout for submissions by translators or authors whose first language isn’t English. As the press becomes an increasingly international venture, I’m sure this is one to keep an eye on for the future.
Can I buy books directly from the publisher?
Yes, you can. The Linen Press online bookshop features all its titles, the majority of which are available in both digital and paperback. In some cases a free sample chapter is available to download, and in all cases it’s possible to contact the press directly to arrange bulk shipping costs if you’re a bookshop or reading group. If you’re looking to support your local independent businesses, Linen Press books are also available in a selection of UK bookshops.
Any particular recommendations?
Award-winning author Avril Joy writes lyrical, mesmerising fiction, as espoused by her celebrated 2016 novel Sometimes a River Song. Writer by night, prisoner governor by day, her latest publication, Going in with Flowers, is a blend of prose and poetry that explores the lives of women in prison. Other titles to look out for include Sailing Through Byzantium, a work of historical fiction by translator and English PEN president Maureen Freely, and May We Borrow Your Country, an anthology of poetry and short stories by British writers of South Asian origin which explores themes of displacement, dislocation and the struggle to find and maintain identity.
What’s on the horizon?
June 2020 will see the digital launch of Kavita A. Jindal’s Manual for a Decent Life, which won the Brighthorse Prize for the Novel in 2018 (the London launch of the paperback has had to be postponed for social-distancing reasons, but should be taking place later in the year). Always on the move, Linen Press is active across social media and also sends out a quarterly newsletter, which is the best place to get information about forthcoming publications as well as insights into the workings of a small independent press.
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!