It’s been an age since we’ve had a new post so I will do my best to do a succinct round-up of our 2015 highlights.
Fireworks, image by Teika Bellamy
To date, 2015, was our most intense publishing year, with four books being published: The Forgotten and Fantastical, Hearth, Oy Yew and The Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize Anthology 2014: The Story of Us. My youngest was at home with me for most of that time, and so I have to remind myself that it was quite a feat to even produce these four books while looking after him and running a household!
Financially, Mother’s Milk Books is run very much as a break-even affair, which means that pre-orders and trade sales to authors and shops etc. ensure that I manage to pay the costs of printing. However, in June this year I realized that we wouldn’t have enough money to cover the costs of printing of Oy Yew, so I put an SOS out there. I was heartened by the amount of support (financial, practical and emotional) we were given and due to this support it got us through a tough time. Every month since June has continued to be difficult (we REALLY need to make more sales) but fingers-crossed we will be able to “keep on keeping on”. With SEVEN books being published next year, with a bit of luck our sales figures will increase. These are the seven titles I am getting very excited about: Echolocation by Becky Cherriman, The Forgotten and Fantastical 2, Maysun and the Wingfish by Alison Lock, Handfast by Ruth Aylett and Beth McDonough, Baby X by Rebecca Ann Smith, Nondula by Ana Salote and The Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize Anthology 2015: Love.
2015 was also the year I received the Women in Publishing’s New Venture Award. Here is what I put together for the press release (which, ironically, got buried here in The Bookseller, but which will, hopefully, be seen here):
“I am delighted to be the recipient of the Women in Publishing’s New Venture Award for pioneering work on behalf of under-represented groups in society, particularly so because having been in the publishing business for four years now I am very aware of how challenging the book trade is! Mothers (and breastfeeding mothers and children) shouldn’t be an ‘under-represented’ group in society, but sadly we are because, all too often, our stories aren’t heard or are dismissed as being merely about ‘women’s issues’ and therefore niche and uncommercial. I am extremely proud to be part of the diverse and thriving UK independent publishing scene, which dares to take editorial and financial risks to ensure that vital, unheard stories get told, particularly since Nottingham, where we are based, has just now become a UNESCO City of Literature. My hope is that this award will go someway to highlighting the excellent work of my authors, illustrators and co-editors so that Mother’s Milk Books can continue to keep publishing books for many more years to come.”
My statement got me thinking more and more about ‘unheard stories’ and so I asked my authors and co-editors to list some of their favourite books of 2015, which had been mainly published by indie presses and were, by and large, given little recognition by the national press. I hope you will add some of these to your 2016 to-read pile!
Cathy Bryant: Selkie Singing at the Passing Place, poetry by Sarah Miller and Melanie Rees. It’s the best BOGOF deal I’ve ever experienced. Though Hearth by Sarah James and Angela Topping is up there when it comes to collaborations.
Beth McDonough: Nell Nelson at Happenstance is doing amazing work, and publishing beautiful pamphlets. In her reading windows, she gives so much of herself to support poets. I’ve just read Jim Carruth’s Killochries (Freight Books). Described as a ‘verse novella’, it’s very wonderful.
Alison Lock: The Emma Press for tales of myths and legends for children with Falling Out of the Sky.
Angela Topping: Ruth Stacey’s Queen, Jewel, Mistress: A History of the Queens of England & Great Britain In Verse (Eyewear)
Becky Cherriman: I’ve just read Sumia Sukkar’s, The Boy From Aleppo who Painted The War (Eyewear). An emotive portrait of the war in Syria condensed into one family’s experience. Telling the story from the perspective of an innocent with flaws (the protagonist is on the autistic spectrum) and a unique way of seeing the world makes us focus on what counts in war - people. It couldn’t be more relevant.
Sarah James: Ruth Stacey’s Queen, Jewel, Mistress: A History of the Queens of England & Great Britain In Verse (Eyewear). Each queen is a given a distinct voice, in poems that take a range of poetry forms and styles befitting their time. They’re women’s viewpoints, but the worlds they belong to and are set in mostly men’s; its depiction therefore unconfined. The imagery is wide-ranging: nature, animals, birds, blood, war, lust, secrecy, politics, violence and the hidden messages of nursery rhyme. The poems are full of memorable lines and metaphors. Some of the poems are thoughtscapes, others landscapes. Some carry a narrative, others spark against each other to create a bigger story. All of them are very human, and very much recommended.
Mark Goodwin’s Steps (Longbarrow Press) is one of those beautiful collections that somehow manages the feat of being in constant movement (word play, riff, layout) while also capturing the stillness of each precisely observed moment and creating a sculpture of words on the page. These are poems of all the senses alert and voiced, with energy in the lay-out, punctuation and varying line lengths to create pieces that are quietly adventurous and daring, and always uncluttered. All of the poems are alive with beautifully stunning but entirely unfussy or unforced images. A very beautiful and enjoyable collection to read.
Robert Peake’s The Knowledge (Nine Arches Press) has been a delight. These poems are the kind that create their own space of existence, no matter how noisy a place or head space I was reading in. To bring such calmness and focus to a reader reading in unideal surroundings is no mean feat, perhaps enhanced by the fact every poem feels complete, crafted and sufficient in itself, not needing the reader to move on at any pace other than what comes naturally; this what comes naturally being subtly and imperceptibly set up by the poems. From closely observed nature, Peake links to philosophical insights, human needs and warm humour. Family relationships, not belonging and the surreal humour of English phrases can also be found. This is, in fact, a wonderfully wide-ranging and encompassing collection of poems which resonate after putting the book down.
Rebecca Ann Smith: I am very much looking forward to reading Erinna Mettler’s Starlings early in the new year, it’s very nearly reached the top of the reading pile. Starlings is similar in structure to David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas in that it is made up of linked short stories. It has some fabulous reviews, and is published by Brighton-based indie Revenge Ink. Mettler, who’s also written award-winning short stories, is online at http://www.erinnamettler.com/
Ana Salote: I love Liz Brownlee’s Animal Magic, Poems on a Disappearing World. Liz has astonishing empathy for the animal world. She doesn’t just observe, she inhabits her subjects. She cares deeply about animals and makes us care by homing on the essential character of each species. Diversity is more than the mere shuffling of DNA. We share her fascination with the results of that process. The fine-tuning of the animate to its surroundings produces delightful quirks of design; each one individual, precious and irreplaceable. She expresses all of this in language which is exquisite, poignant and frequently witty. It can be read by children and adults with equal enjoyment. I can’t think of a better way to educate children about wildlife and conservation.
Tom Bellamy (co-editor and founder): These are very funny: How To Be A Public Author by Francis Plug (by Paul Ewen and published by Galley Beggar Press) and We Go To The Gallery: A Dung Beetle Learning Guide by Miriam Elia (Dung Beetle Books).
Rebecca Bellamy (beta-reader and young editor extraordinaire): Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery and Oy Yew by Ana Salote.
Jerome Bellamy (tea boy): Puff The Magic Dragon.
Teika Bellamy: Sara Maitland’s Moss Witch (Comma Press), Angela Slatter’s Sourdough and Other Stories (Tartarus Press). I was profoundly moved by Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. I was also glad to read Smallcreep’s Day by Peter Currell Brown (published by Pinter & Martin) and I can see why it was described as a masterpiece. There is so much in it that is still so relevant to society today. I’ve also just now started reading Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed which is simply stunning. Also, for budding writers I highly recommend Orson Scott Card’s writing guides: Characters and Viewpoint and How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy (which is where I first found out about Butler’s books; Card is a big fan of hers). Poetry-wise I very much enjoyed Only The Flame Remains by Adam Horovitz (it is beautiful and haunting) and also Destroyed Dresses by Cara Brennan (Valley Books) touched me with its gentle, bittersweet charm.
Thank you for all the support you have given us throughout 2015. I wish you and your families all a happy, healthy and creativity-filled 2016!