A few years ago, when changing personal circumstances enabled (my colleague and wife) Tara and me to move our publishing house from South-East England, we said: “Where to?”
We both knew: Sheffield has an independent, creative, DIY spirit that on every visit we had found a breath of fresh air compared with property-ladder-obsessed Buckinghamshire. Of course, we also think it’s important for more editors to be living outside London and the South-East, but we certainly didn’t move because someone really ought to—no, we moved because publishing (and the rest of life) is good here. Now And Other Stories is based in Sheffield, and Tara and I are proud to see our kids growing up with local accents. (Of course, we were lucky to move while the company was very small: in the year before our 2017 move, we worked mainly with freelances and only had one colleague: our brilliant publicist Nichola Smalley, who still lives and works in London, which is perfect for her role).
As a newcomer to Sheffield, two things struck me as key to the city’s creativity, and I think these features are true of much of the North. Firstly, people here know and speak their minds, in personal and political matters. In recent years we have seen ribbons and cards pinned to trees condemned to be cut down by the council’s bizarre road maintenance contract, and posters in front windows calling for an inquiry into the 1984 police violence at the Battle of Orgreave. And this year we have had a party with the flamboyant Lord Mayor of Sheffield, Magid Magid, who also speaks out on many social issues. People here have ideas and make their voices heard. That’s vital for a creative city.
Secondly, the lower cost of living (and of office and studio rents) compared to the South-East is liberating. Exciting projects grow, whether that’s an independent business or an artistic vision, such as the world-renowned performance group Forced Entertainment, founded here in 1984. The group’s leader, Tim Etchells, lived here the government’s closure of the mines and the resulting massive unemployment in South Yorkshire, and that lived experience comes out in the unique voice he has developed in Endland, a project of short fictions written over three decades. The stories channel characters in a screwed-up time and place that takes something of 1980s South Yorkshire and gets close to the heart of our times. Take Deborah Levy’s more eloquent word for it—as she says: “Etchells made a tough, eloquent, emotional new language of ideas about class, human fragility, lust, embarrassment and a good night out.” I’m proud to be publishing Endland in November with an introduction by Jarvis Cocker and endorsements from Levy and Iain Sinclair.
Being based here, we’re lucky to be tapping into a rich seam of writing from Northerners and writers living in the North. Apart from Etchells, recently we published Something Like Breathing, the début novel by the North- East’s Angela Readman, and next year we’ll publish Theft by Luke Brown, a novel that takes a witty and hard look at our divided society, not least the geographical divide between Brown’s native North-West and his adopted London. And then there’s the Northern Book Prize, which we set up to discover unpublished manuscripts, a decision more than justified by the inaugural winning novel, Slip of a Fish by Amy Arnold, who lives in Cumbria.
We’re working hard to contribute to the region, and we now run career days (“Is Publishing For Me?”) with the help of guest speakers from local and London publishing (thank you, Peepal Tree, the Poetry Business and Faber & Faber!). For the past two years we have recruited someone from a background under-represented in publishing and we plan to continue to do so for at least the next two years. We are also planning to add a sales and marketing director to the team soon.
Most important of all, moving North has afforded us the freedom to publish the books we love. We have to break even, of course, but we aren’t going to be cautious. Cautious publishing is terrible for the art of fiction.
Stefan Tobler is a Man Booker International-longlisted translator and co-founder of And Other Stories.
This was written as part of The Bookseller's focus on publishing in the north of England; for more content from this focus, head here.