An Interview with Notting Hill Editions
Written by Victoria Best
If you’ve ever seen a book by Notting Hill Editions, you’re not likely to forget it. Elegant hardbacks with embossed cloth covers that are slim and pocket-friendly, they feature essays written by both classic and modern authors. The first NHE editions I ever owned came in a special case-bound set of eight and included titles by Thomas Bernhard, Osip Mandelstam and the well-known neuroscientist, Susan Greenfield. I’d seen an online advertisement for them and basically begged my husband to buy them for me at the reduced Christmas rate. They were every bit as high quality – both the book as beautiful object and the book as creative thought – as I could have wished for. And I’ve been an NHE junkie ever since.
With almost forty titles under their belt – one of the most recent, Essays on the Self by Virginia Woolf is reviewed by our own Simon Thomas in this edition – NHE has been spreading its wings. Most notably in the biennial essay prize it runs. The Notting Hill Editions Essay prize is offered for the best essay in the English language between 2,000 and 8,000 words, published or unpublished. The winner receives £20,000 with £1,000 going to each of five runners-up, and NHE publishes the results in a special edition. The 2015 prize will be launched on 25th February at Jewish Book Week, where the previous winner, Michael Ignatieff will be in conversation with two of this year’s judges, Phillip Lopate and Adam Mars-Jones. Does it make you itch to dig that old essay out of a drawer and give it the once-over?
I was fortunate enough to have NHE founder, Tom Kremer (left), answer my questions about his publishing house, and the answers are below:
Essays have fascinated me for years, both reading them and writing them. I’ve always leaned towards the form. The essay is brief but it allows the writer to explore ideas deeply and personally. Once I hit my eighties, I had the time and the opportunity to become a Publisher, and so I decided to finally give my time to this long-held passion. NHE was founded in 2011.
2. What was the mission statement or the publishing vision that you began with?
To reinvigorate the essay as a commercial and literary form. We strive to publish what we believe to be ‘classical essays’. They occupy the critical space between journalism and academia.
3. What was the initial response to your books?
People in the publishing world said I was mad to be creating high quality hardback books in the digital age. But the response from readers was overwhelmingly positive – people love to hold our books, and once they pick one up, they just don’t want to let it go.
4. How has the company grown and developed?
We’ve got nearly forty titles now, and have a growing list of supporters. Subscribers who await each new title, and authors who want to work with us because we publish new ideas, and are not afraid to push the boundaries.
5. What do you know now that you wish you’d known at the start?
I knew nothing when I started, so the answer would be: everything.
6. What does the immediate future hold for NHE?
We’re about to launch the second Notting Hill Editions Essay Prize 2015 – open to any essay written in the English language on any subject. It’s always exciting to see what comes in. We’re also looking forward to publishing Phillip Lopate’s personal essay collection, ‘Portrait Inside My Head’ this month.
7. Have you any particularly anecdotes or stories you’d like to share with us?
When we started the range, we had a choice of 38 different colours of linen to choose from. We’ve now used every last colour in the swatch book – a moment of design crisis! We have to keep them stylish as they are now stocked in several designer boutiques around Notting Hill as pocket-size objects of beauty. As for mistakes, we’ve made lots and will probably make many more – because we’re trying to do something difficult: reinvigorate the essay.
Visit the Notting Hill website here.
Read our review of Virginia Woolf’s Essays on the Self.