A wealth of feminist non-fiction hit the shelves last year and the trend looks set to continue in 2017, with the publication of Rebecca Solnit’s The Mother of All Questions and Jill Filipovic’s The H-Spot. Joining the ranks is Nasty Women, the first book by new Scottish indie 404 Ink. A collection of essays “written by and about 21st-century women”, it was published last week (8th March) to coincide with International Women’s Day. The list’s founders, Laura Jones and Heather McDaid, say the book was conceived as a counterpoint to the misogyny of Donald Trump’s election campaign and resultant presidency.
The duo sought a variety of voices and stories. “We are young, relatively privileged white women, so we don’t have a story that we think is going to inspire. We’d rather put lesser-heard voices at the forefront and keep ourselves in the background,” says Jones. Nasty Women covers issues such as sexual assault, the gender divide in the US, the immigrant experience and contraception. Contributors include the journalist and author Chitra Ramaswamy, Laura Jane Grace from punk rock band Against Me! and playwright Jen McGregor.
Jones and McDaid got Nasty Women off the ground using Kickstarter. They hoped to raise £6,000, but a social media push for funding, helped by pledges from authorial heavyweights including Margaret Atwood, Samantha Shannon, Louise O’Neill and Nikesh Shukla, saw it crowdfund £22,156.
The 404 Ink founders are both relatively recent graduates of Stirling University’s postgraduate publishing programme, and cut their teeth with other Scottish indies: Jones worked at literary press Saraband, McDaid for educational specialist Bright Red. They joined forces for the first time to create the Saltire Society’s inaugural virtual literary festival, Scot Lit Fest, in early 2016. “We had both been considering setting up our own publishing companies. We got together and thought it would work,” Jones says,
The Scottish indie scene had a boon in 2016, with Graeme Macrae Burnet’s Saraband-issued His Bloody Project shortlisted for the Man Booker. Jones says, “It was a victory for Scottish publishing, but we did see the tired narrative of the press giving a small Scottish publisher a pat on the back.” 404 Ink is consciously not branding itself as a “Scottish” publisher. “We try to avoid it as we’re aware that books published in Scotland can be misrepresented or ignored south of the border. The quality of writing coming from Scotland is astounding and we want to represent that the best way we can, and hope that readers will see there’s more to Scottish publishing than tartan tales and whisky guides,” she adds.
The list’s first foray into publishing was a literary magazine, launched in November 2016. Jones admits periodicals of that ilk can be precarious financially, but “we thought we could do it sensibly”. The first issue was funded by Creative Scotland and featured 30 authors, a large number for an inaugural outing. McDaid reveals this was deliberate. “You have 30 writers to champion, but also 30 writers championing you... obviously the [sales] numbers can be healthier,” she says.
McDaid and Jones are quick to note that it will not be a solely feminist publisher. “Nasty Women is the perfect book for us to make a statement with but we don’t market [404 Ink] as a statement publisher necessarily. We just want to publish stuff we like and are passionate about,” Jones says. The publisher’s philosophy is that literature should be current and political. Jones says if publishers have “the voice or the ability to embolden other voices”, they should do so. “Even if 404 Ink makes no splash whatsoever, I just want to know, down the line, that we did what we thought was right, and published stories worth telling,” McDaid concludes.