Welsh trio of start-ups talk launching in a pandemic

Welsh trio of start-ups talk launching in a pandemic

Irrefutably it’s been a tough year for the publishing industry, the pandemic having disrupted business and affected publishers on a vast and unprecedented scale. But that hasn’t stopped a trio of newly established publishers in Wales. Cardiff-based children’s press Llyfrau Broga Books and poetry publisher Broken Sleep Books, as well as Black Bee Books in Carmarthenshire, are young, dynamic presses striving to showcase Welsh talent across fiction and non-fiction.

Broga was founded in late 2019 by author-illustrators Huw and Luned Aaron, with the aim to generate new space for children’s book’s that are “reflective of Wales’ unique heritage and culture, but also original and contemporary”, says Huw Aaron. In March, they published their first book: Huw Aaron’s collection of illustrations Ha Ha Cnec, as part of the World Book Day £1 book initiative. They are releasing three books this month: Joseph Watson’s Welsh-language middle-grade graphic novel Rali’r Gofod, Ben Hillman’s Yr Allwedd Amser, and Huw Aaron’s Gwil Garw a’r Carchar Crisial. They will be released in English later in the year. In August, beginning a series of introducing Welsh lives in picture book format,the pair will release Sarah Jane Rees’ Enwogion O Fri, based on the life of pioneering bard and sea-captain Sarah Jane Rees. It will be illustrated by Anni Llyn and Rhiannon Parnis. As for the future, Huw Aaron says: “It would be great to see Broga become an established name in the Welsh-language publishing landscape, and in future to see our books read further afield.”

Broken Sleep Books won the Michael Marks 2020 Publishing Award, an award that recognises outstanding poetry pamphlets. The press’ list originally started in “an attempt to ensure there was a press actively devoted to ensuring representation of marginalised groups, particularly working-class individuals”, says director Aaron Kent. The press offers free books to low-income individuals every month, and to LGBTQ+ people in prison. It also offers free PDFs to anyone who asks. This year the press has put community action at the forefront. It has given away more than 500 books to people without access to books and set up a system whereby more trees are planted than are used in the creation of their books; Kent also raised nearly £10,000 for charitable causes.

The press gets around 4,000 submissions a year and this year it has released between four to six books a month, including titles from Gillian Clark and J H Prynne (Kent’s inspirations). A few of the titles released this year include Richard O’Brien’s The Dolphin House, a surrealist collection of poetry based on a failed NASA-funded research project to teach a dolphin the English language; and Yousif M Qasmiyeh’s Writing the Camp, a collection drawn from the poet’s experience of the Baddawi refugee camp in Lebanon. Kent already has the 2022 schedule slated, too. He says: “Broken Sleep has become my sole work, so I have time and energy now to increase output.” Currently he is working on getting stock in more shops and focusing on Broken Sleep’s imprint Legitimate Snack, which publishes hand- made poetry pamphlets using a variety of paper stocks.

Black Bee Books was launched last year by Huw and Seonaid Francis (pictured), who also run Scotland’s ThunderPoint Publishing. The indie publisher has a shop based in the Carmarthenshire town of Llandeilo, and aims to work with authors who reflect the wide range of communities in Wales. During its launch year, Black Bee Books released three titles: Angela Johnson’s Arianwen, a historical novel set in 20th-century rural west Wales; G B Williams’ contemporary crime novel The Chair; and Colin R Parsons’ YA horror and sci-fi short story collection The Man with the Black Shoebox and Other Strange Stories. Huw Francis says: “All three of the books moved us with their honesty, their humour and their raw emotion.” 

The publisher’s distribution is handled by the Books Council of Wales and Gardners, and in terms of the future, it is looking to publish both adult and YA fiction and non-fiction, but not children’s books. Huw Francis also revealed the three titles he plans to publish in the next year: local writer Julie Ann Rees’s Paper Horses, a raw and honest book about domestic abuse; Owen J Hurcum’s Don’t Ask Me About My Genitals, a manifesto for trans and non-binary equality; and artist Isabel Adonis’ And, about growing up in Wales in the 1950s and ’60s with a Black father and a white mother. “We are thrilled to have reached out to independent bookshops and literary festivals, and to have been so welcomed by them,” he added.

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