Manchester novelist and academic Sherry Ashworth is doing something almost counter-intuitive this week.
“I think we’ll be different from many other regional publishing operations, because we will be completely independent,” says Ashworth. “We are doing it with our own money, we have no grant, just our experience and native cunning. And also, we hope, we have the writers.”
She’s launching a publishing company based in Manchester called Hidden Gem Press. The name jokily refers to the Manchester landmark church, St Mary’s, whilst also alluding to the new publishing house’s vision ‘of discovering and promoting the best emerging writers’.
This means that it will publish novels folks, good old fashioned printed on paper novels from Northern writers. Wow. This is a brave move in a world currently obsessed by 140 characters and telling you what it's had for breakfast.
So what’s the thinking behind it?
“The publishing industry is in crisis because of ebooks and Government interference and supermarket buying policies,” says Ashworth. “This is the worst time for first time novelists to get published. Publishers and outlets such as the big stores play it safe and go for the big names all the time. But we always need new voices coming through, new ideas, this is what we’re trying to bring to Manchester. I am presently senior lecturer at MMU for Creative Writing and so of course, I’m aware of what’s going on, and how difficult it is for those new voices to find expression.”
Ashworth also has other motives, “I want to be a publisher. I want to have that feeling of nurturing and promoting talent. At the same time I think commercially there’s an opportunity. If we find a writer that makes the grade then we can make money and nurture more talent. As a writer, a lecturer and person who’s been part of the industry for many years, I think I know enough to help make success happen.”
Still it’s a big risk. The number of come-and-gone regional publishers seems never-ending over the last two decades. All arrive with fresh hope and then quickly disappear after the initial blaze of glory, or in many cases when the funding gets pulled, from whatever quango or arts council pot it came from.
“I think Hidden Gem will be different from many other regional publishing operations, because we will be completely independent,” says Ashworth. “We’re, my husband and I, doing it with our own money, we have no grant, just our experience and native cunning. And also, we hope, we have the writers.”
So what will the first Hidden Gem book be?
“We’re starting with Hungry, The Stars and Everything by Emma Unsworth. We thought Emma’s novel was exactly right, a fabulous, lovely, witty and skilful novel that should have a place on bookshelves. Her agent loves it too, but can’t place it because of a nervous market among publishers.”
The novel comes out in June with a print run of 100 hardback and a 1000 paperback. Emma, an occasional Confidential writer and partner of Guy Garvey’s Elbow, describes it as, ‘a dark, romantic novel about a jaded food critic whose greatest passion to date is the distant memory of an imagined love affair with the Devil’.
We can’t wait to read it at Confidential. We love Emma's writing and know it'll be sharp and very funny too.
There’s a final element to Sherry Ashworth’s Hidden Gem mission.
“Altruism,” she says. “I’ve enjoyed my time as a writer and being involved with literature. If I could launch several people into becoming established writers then that would be very satisfying. I’m aware of the difficulties but with all our experience we’ll get there.”
Most of the great publishing houses, Penguin, Faber and Faber and so on, also began with an altruistic impulse, a desire from those who adore literature and are excited by it to keep the medium fresh. Let’s hope The Hidden Gem Press can combine altruism and commercial nous to prosper.
The Launch of Hidden Gem Press, including a reading by Emma Unsworth, takes place on Thursday 25 November at 6.30pm at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, The Engine House, Chorlton Mill, Cambridge Street, city centre. Admission is free. The cafe and bar will be open.
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