The story of Sea Stories

<p>Publishing the first fiction title for the National Maritime Museum has been a fascinating and challenging experience. Museums traditionally publish catalogues, guidebooks, and books about the collections &ndash; not fiction &ndash; least of all short stories &ndash; but this was an idea, that, as far as we are aware, no other museum has tried.&nbsp; <br />
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The idea was proposed by a member of staff, to celebrate the <a href="http://www.nmm.ac.uk/server/show/ConWebDoc.21638">NMM's 70th anniversary</a>: a collection of short stories loosely inspired by the sea. The sea as 'literary muse', if you like.</p>
<p>We loved it and jumped at the chance to do something innovative and different. We commissioned sixteen contemporary authors &ndash; including Sam Llewellyn, Erica Wagner, Chris Cleave, Jim Perrin, and Tessa Hadley &ndash; and gave them a fairly loose brief. 'Just write something that is inspired by the sea', we said &ndash; and the finished book, which published on 27th September &ndash; World Maritime Day &ndash; is the result. Sixteen beautiful, funny, strange and sometimes disturbing stories. Some are based on objects in the NMM's collections &ndash; like Erica Wagner's 'In Time: A Correspondence' &ndash; inspired by a <a href="http://www.nmm.ac.uk/collections/explore/object.cfm?ID=ZBA0004">watch from the wreck of the Titanic</a>, currently on display. Others interpret and build on real historical events &ndash; like Jim Perrin's 'A Snow Goose', a haunting, unsettling story inspired by the search for Franklin,<br />
the <a href="http://www.nmm.ac.uk/collections/explore/index.cfm/category/franklinreli... disaster in the history of British polar exploration</a>.</p>
<p>In terms of selling the book to the trade, we faced a challenge &ndash; let's be honest. We're not known for fiction publishing &ndash; and short stories, especially, seem to get less shelf-space and review coverage than they should.</p>
<p>We knew that sales would hang on good publicity coverage and that we'd need to punch above our weight. We worked with an excellent publicist, <a href="mailto:sophie@sophierochester.co.uk">Sophie Rochester</a> alongside the NMM's Press Office, and the campaign has been highly successful, including extracts or reviews placed in Times Books, Times Online, Telegraph Online, Guardian Online, as well as reviews and reader offers in specialist magazines like Country Life, Classic Boat, Practical Boat Owner and the RNLI's Lifeboat. But the highlight has been getting the book on the Today Programme (try '<a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/today/listenagain/thursday.shtml">Listen Again'</a> if you missed it) &ndash; with contributor Erica Wagner in conversation with First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Jonathan Band about the book. A coup for any publisher, let alone a museum publisher.</p>
<p>Following that, the book has been taken up by Waterstones, Borders and, finally, WHSmith Travel's London station stores &ndash; the short story the perfect read, of course, for the commuter. We teamed up with Stanfords Bookshop to do a brilliant author reading event &ndash; how unusual, how refreshing to hear stories read aloud, as they should be &ndash; taking on a completely new life of their own.</p>
<p>We're sure this title will take NMM Publishing from strength to strength and in new and interesting directions. As a publisher, it's been brilliant to do something outside our normal remit &ndash; with all the risk that involves &ndash; challenging perceptions of museums, and museum publishing. What else are museums but huge storehouses of stories and ideas that can be the starting point for some really innovative fiction. And the short story as a genre is definitely thriving amongst contemporary writing talent. In this time-pressed, information-saturated world, the time is surely right for it to start finding the market it deserves.</p>