Seven years ago, the Northern Fiction Alliance burst onto the British literary scene, founded by Manchester’s Comma Press. The group featured Leeds’s Peepal Tree Press, Liverpool’s Dead Ink Books, and Sheffield’s And Other Stories – the quartet set out to show the radical diversity of publishing in the north of England and, in doing so, challenged an over-centralised book trade to recognise that something new was happening far from south of England. Clearly British publishing did not mean simply London.
The alliance rapidly expanded, with over twenty members joining and soon its publishers were hosting workshops and events, holding showcases, training seminars and touring book fairs. A new culture was emerging.
Collaborative, entrepreneurial and commercial – the alliance has grown steadily in stature and continues to develop new ideas, open new markets and draw attention to the diversity of writers and writing throughout the UK. It has made a difference and it has shown a difference in the literary landscape.
One key aim was to build resilience for those independent businesses who compete against the big conglomerates in national and international markets, and that have long standing structural relationships and interdependencies. In this respect, the alliance has been a real success story and, with the support of the Arts Council, investment and new business ventures have helped to extend and expand publishing from all over the UK, finding a home with the innovative indie sector in the north.
Yet who knew what was to come after 2016? With the effects of Brexit, the pandemic and now the cost-of-living crisis, the alliance has provided a support structure to constrain some of the worst effects on the book trade. Now there are glimmers of hope for the independent northern sector, and perhaps the continuing cost pressures upon manufacturing and restraint in the home bookselling market is beginning to heal.
Certainly, the innovation and determination of the alliance points a clear way forward: collaborate to survive and innovate to thrive.
Now Salt joins the alliance – as the press returns to its roots in the north west. As we enter our twenty-fifth year, and publish our 1,500th title, we hope to share ideas, experience and initiatives with our friends and colleagues in the north.