Annabel asked Myriad Editions’ Publishing Director Candida Lacey some questions…
Annabel: Your company website has an intriguing strapline, ‘Publishers of fiction, graphic books and atlases’. Tell us a little about Myriad Editions and how it began?
Candida: Myriad was set up in 1993 by the late Anne Benewick, formerly an editor at Pluto Press, and the Hong Kong-based campaigning physician Judith Mackay OBE. Anne had commissioned Judith to produce The State of Health Atlas, the latest in a series of geopolitical atlases, when the company went into liquidation. Faced with the prospect of months of wasted work, Judith suggested setting up their own company. Audacity and tenacity made for robust first principles and Myriad was founded. Their vision, together with the pioneering combination of radical cartography and expert analysis, paved the way for today’s infographics. The flagship title, The State of the World Atlas, is now an established classic, authored by leading international peace researcher Dan Smith OBE; we will publish the 10th edition in 2020. Meanwhile, the completely redesigned new edition of Joni Seager’s feminist classic, The Women’s Atlas, which we publish in October, has been flagged by Catherine Mayer (co-founder of the Women’s Equality Party) as ‘the most important book that will be published this year’.
It wasn’t until 2005 that Myriad started publishing under its own imprint. When the company moved from London to Brighton, we saw the opportunity to celebrate the city and the many writers and artists who come to see the sea—and decide to stay. Our first publication was The Brighton Book, a mixed-media anthology of fiction, reportage, photography and graphics. We commissioned original work from well-known authors, including Jeanette Winterson, Meg Rosoff and Nigella Lawson, and added new names into the mix. We went on to publish three of the featured debut authors: novelists Martine McDonagh and Lesley Thomson as well as Woodrow Phoenix’s first graphic novel, Rumble Strip, which Jon McGregor reviewed in The Times as ‘an utterly original work of genius’. These books formed the basis and the rationale for our publishing strategy: to seek out home-grown talent and launch the careers of new writers from Brighton and beyond.
With a small grant from the Arts Council in 2009, and again in 2011, Myriad was able to build a publishing programme carefully and selectively, and specialize in original literary fiction and graphic novels. We had an early hit with Elizabeth Haynes’ debut novel: Into the Darkest Corner was Amazon’s Best Book of the Year 2011, selected for TV Book Club 2012 and a New York Times bestseller, and it has been translated into 37 languages.
Like many small publishers, we publish books we love. Myriad’s Creative Director, Corinne Pearlman, was at the heart of the comics scene for years before we started publishing graphic novels, and this meant we could hit the ground running. Our graphics’ list has quickly become established as one of the most thought-provoking and characterful in the UK. Graphic novels are such an effective format for discussing difficult subjects and we have built an unparalleled reputation for publishing graphic books that deal with tough, challenging subjects (graphic medicine, gender abuse, personal politics, economics, refugees) and political themes.
Annabel: You’re located in Brighton, one of the UK’s most happening cities; tell us about the local literary community.
Candida: Brighton has long been a beacon for writers and artists. The city has a major arts festival and a fringe festival. It is the home of City Reads and has a thriving literary community with organisations like New Writing South and Creative Future championing inclusivity and diversity. We are fortunate to have two of the best independent bookshops in the country: Hove’s City Books on our doorstep, and a little further into East Sussex is Much Ado Books in Alfriston. In Brighton the team at Waterstones regularly hosts events to support local authors, and its local publisher. Brighton and Hove writers and artists support each other through organisations such as Cartoon County, Beach Hut Writers and Rattle Tales. Yes, Brighton is a very happening city but the literary community extends throughout Sussex with the Charleston Festival and Small Wonder to the east and Shoreham Festival to the west, and numerous opportunities for creative writers, and for authors to teach creative writing, at Brighton, Sussex and Chichester universities and at West Dean College.
Annabel: What has been the impact of your merger with the New Internationalist?
Candida: We merged with New Internationalist last year as part of a joint plan to expand, reach wider audiences and publish books that push boundaries and embrace diversity. We’re building sales networks and partnerships that will enable us to take our books to global audiences as well as bringing international authors to Myriad. We’d long been admirers of the politics and purpose of New Internationalist, and they were our publishing partners for the UK editions of three of the atlases. The partnership marks an exciting new chapter in Myriad’s development and strengthens our mission to make the personal political and the local international. We can look further afield for more diverse and international writers and readers. This year we’ve published, for example, Delhi-based Manu Joseph’s new novel, Miss Laila, Armed and Dangerous; Olivier Kugler’s award-winning graphic reportage of Syrian refugees, Escaping Wars and Waves; and Redemption Ground, the first collection of essays from Jamaican Poet Laureate Lorna Goodison. In March next year, we publish Margaret Busby’s landmark anthology, New Daughters of Africa, with contributions from over 200 writers from around the world.
Annabel: Looking at your fiction list, is there a typical Myriad novel? How has that changed over the years?
Candida: We reissued four classic Myriad debuts to celebrate the 10th anniversary of our fiction list: I Have Waited, And You Have Come by Martine McDonagh, London Triptych by Jonathan Kemp, A Kind of Vanishing by Lesley Thomson and Quilt by Nicholas Royle. These were among the first novels we published and they represent the four corners of our fiction publishing—literary, historical, crime and experimental. When we started publishing fiction we were looking only at debuts and only those written by UK-based authors. Within these narrow boundaries, the range of novels was broad, from women’s commercial fiction through to super-literary. We’re now more focused in what we’re publishing (literary, political) and also broader in our reach. This year for example, alongside Ruth Figgest’s Magnetism, a classic Myriad debut, we’ve just published (and sold TV rights to) Peter Adamson’s political thriller The Kennedy Moment and Manu Joseph’s Miss Laila, Armed and Dangerous. We’re publishing literary nonfiction, too, and short story collections, both of which are exciting new additions to the list.
Annabel: Your lists also strongly feature graphic novels and you have run the Myriad First Graphic Novel Competition for three years now. Are graphic novels finally getting a foothold in the literary world?
Candida: A literary boost for graphic novels came in the form of Dotter Of Her Father’s Eye by Bryan and Mary Talbot winning the Costa Biography Award in 2012. Now, with Nick Drnaso’s Sabrina we are seeing a graphic novel on the longlist for the ManBooker Prize for the first time. That’s a foothold, for sure, and introduces more readers to the form but we need to keep creating opportunities for graphic novelists, encouraging literary editors to review them and festival programmers to invite them to speak alongside literary authors. We established Myriad’s First Graphic Novel Competition to provide an opportunity for creators to see their debut graphic novel in print. Alongside our First Drafts competition for fiction, the FGNC furthers Myriad’s mission to encourage and nurture new talent, and to provide opportunities for artists who have not previously embarked upon a full-length work. We will be publishing this year’s winner, Jenny Robins, and the runner-up Sabba Khan. Myriad has published the winners of the two previous competitions—Gareth Brookes and Jade Sarson—and four of the shortlisted authors: Henny Beaumont, Hannah Eaton, Paula Knight, and Ian Williams, as well as work by other creators introduced to Myriad through the competition.
Annabel: How has the digital revolution in publishing helped (or hindered) you?
Candida: The digital revolution is responsible for the demise of over 1,000 bookshops in the UK. But it has also provided a platform for writers to publish and sell their work directly. It is a brutal levelling of the playing field, and we have all had to negotiate a path through this constantly changing environment. As publishers we’ve had to look hard at how we add value for authors and help them sell their books, and how we best curate a list that readers trust. I am a reader first and a publisher second. As a reader, I believe that the content of a book is what matters, and whether I choose to read it on paper or a screen is neither here nor there. As a publisher, I know ebooks have undermined the sale of print books—how can they not have when they are so cheap and so accessible?—but I also see the advantages of Daily Deals and other digital promotions, and the opportunities these offer to highlight our backlist as well as new books. We have had some limited success with the graphic novels, but generally we publish these in print editions only. Like art books, like our infographic atlases, they are beautiful objects to be treasured; readers love the look and feel of the pages, and the quality of the production. The technology is catching up, of course, and soon we’ll routinely release digital editions of our graphic novels and atlases alongside the print editions. The evidence shows that many readers still prefer physical books, and many slip easily between reading in either format. What is important is the diversity of platforms and publishing across each to reach the widest possible audience.
Annabel: What’s the best thing about being part of an indie publisher, and what are the challenges, too?
Candida:Independent publishing is no ordinary job, it’s a way of life. There’s such energy and innovation amongst independent publishers, and a sense of community too. We all believe passionately in what we’re doing, and promote our authors at every opportunity. We’re always looking for new ideas and ways to collaborate; we can publish quickly; we can take risks and publish outliers that larger publishers wouldn’t consider.
The challenges are always a lack of resources and getting the books noticed in a crowded market place. But this is why independent publishing is a way of life and why we have to be passionate about what we publish!
Annabel: What lies ahead for Myriad Editions?
Candida: Myriad’s original publishing mission was to discover, nurture and showcase talented new fiction writers and graphic artists, offering editorial support to help them achieve their creative potential, and imaginative promotion to reach the widest possible readership at home and abroad. We’re building on this strong foundation to develop a more international, literary and political flavour to each of the lists, to publish authors from around the world, and to collaborate with like-minded organisations to celebrate and champion the best writing we can find.
Annabel: And, finally, what are you currently reading?
Candida: I’m a huge fan of Miriam Toews’ fiction and was very excited when All My Puny Sorrows was shortlisted for the 2015 Folio Prize. I’ve been slowly catching up with her backlist and have just finished The Summer of My Amazing Luck. I’ve also been catching up on short story collections—currently I’m reading Anne Enright’s Taking Pictures—I love the form and am delighted that we’re publishing two collections next year. I missed Ayòbámi Adébáyò’s terrific debut, Stay With Me, when it was first published, and am relishing it now. I was moved to tears when I heard forensic anthropologist Professor Sue Black speak at the Harrogate Crime Festival last month; her book, All That Remains: A Life in Death, is startling, thoughtful, and peculiarly reassuring. I also have a Kindle-full of submissions, of course.
Annabel: Thank you, Candida.