Fox and Windmill Books is a new Bradford-based independent publisher that launched last month with the aim to celebrate and platform British South Asian writers. Founders Habiba Desai, who handles partnerships, and Sara Razzaq, who will look after submissions, talk to Caroline Carpenter about the plans for the press.
What were you doing before you launched Fox & Windmill Books?
Habiba Desai: Before establishing Fox and Windmill Books, I was working as an assistant at the Bradford Literature Festival, which is where Sara and I met as volunteers five years ago. Before BLF, I was a bookseller at Waterstones in the beautiful Wool Exchange, a real hidden gem in Bradford. Before that I had just returned from London from a work experience placement at Penguin Random House. I guess you could say I’ve always had some part in the literary industry, I’ve been very lucky.
Sara Razzaq: There is not really a "before" for me as I am continuing my full-time job alongside running Fox and Windmill (though F&W feels more like a passion than a job!). Since graduating in 2018 I have been working in the social media sector for a leading manufacturing company. I am also currently pursuing my masters, researching contemporary historical romance.
You launched with the aim to bridge the gap in the publishing industry for South Asian writers based in the north of England. How do you plan to find and nurture these writers, and why do you think they have been neglected by the industry before now?
HD: Yes, our aim is to bridge the gap. Since our launch on Twitter in March 2021, teachers, colleagues and friends have reached out to us, telling us about talented writers in their classrooms and communities who have no outlet to share their work. There is an issue here and we believe there are many factors to why this may be.
One we’ve personally identified with is the lack of understanding and opportunity around how to become part of the publishing industry. It’s always been a world that’s miles away from us. Publishing seemed to belong in London and nowhere else. I recall that having an author visit in schools was an enormous privilege and a rarity but asking them questions about the industry was like solving a riddle. We’d ask “how do I get my book published?” and they’d just reply swiftly “get an agent”, as if we were expected to know what an agent was.
Coming from a background like ours – we are working-class and the children of immigrants – jobs are supposed to be practical and straightforward. There needs to be a clear result at the end of every step you take, whether that’s a degree or an apprenticeship. We understand this; our parents struggled and worked to survive in the UK to give their children a better life. To undertake a humanities degree with no clear job path is risky. Writing and publishing is exactly that. The outcome of a published book and becoming successful isn’t always guaranteed.
We’ll discover new authors through events, workshops and connecting with schools and communities. We are sponsoring a creative writing workshop with Bradford Libraries to nurture aspiring authors. We’ll also be selecting work to publish in our upcoming anthology. Through a reading group we are in the process of establishing, we want to broaden reading and encourage participants to write stories.
SR: We created our Fox and Windmills Books Podcast to engage authors to ask questions about the industry that they may not know the answer to that we can answer. We are not just looking for manuscripts – we want to build a relationship with our writers where we can talk with them on a personal level regarding their journey and aspirations.
You are being mentored by Kevin Duffy from Bluemoose Books. How did this come about, and what do you think it says about the collaboration and support network within publishing in the north of England?
HD: I approached Kevin during the Bradford Literature Festival, where he was hosting a panel discussion during the Northern Lights Conference. I told him about what I was writing and that I also wanted to set up an indie publishing company. It all began from there and Kevin kept motivating us to start our journey and requested updates which made us determined to begin. For years we just kept the conversation going, talking every so often about things we should consider about publishing.
Being mentored by Kevin is a real privilege and we are very grateful for his support. To have someone so knowledgeable about publishing has helped us progress our company quicker than we anticipated and kept us connected within the industry, especially the Northern indie scene. Since our online launch in March this year, it’s been the Northern publishers, festivals, societies and independent bookshops that have shouted us out to the rest of the community. They have been so welcoming and encouraging. The support network is close-knit, everyone is willing to help each other out and to promote great books and wonderful stories and that says a lot. Without it, Fox and Windmill couldn’t have existed.
You will be releasing an anthology of short stories and poetry in December. What other plans, projects and publishing do you have coming up?
SR: We have a fantastic line up of established writers who will be contributing short stories and poetry to the anthology. We also have a writing competition for contributors launching at the end of July which is open to British South Asian writers in the North. We will be selecting six short stories and six pieces of poetry. All submission details will be available on our website and for any queries you can drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Fox and Windmill Books will also be sponsoring a writing course with Bradford Libraries. From this programme we will be selecting writers from the course to contribute to the anthology.
We have some exciting events lined up. We will be part of the Sangam Festival during South Asian Heritage month talking to Michelle Hodgson, the director of the Huddersfield Literature Festival, about bridging the gap in the publishing industry. we are also delighted to be a part of the Halifax Festival of Words where we’ll be talking to Kevin and Hetha Duffy of Bluemoose Books about diversity and inclusivity in publishing.
We will be establishing our reading group next year where we will be sharing and celebrating work from South Asian writers and demystifying the publishing industry, from jargon used to submissions processes. Finally, we will be opening submissions in Autumn 2022 for full-length novels in the YA and adult fiction genres.
What are your long term aims and ambitions for Fox & Windmill Books?
SR: Our long-term aim is to bridge the gap in the publishing industry, especially for British South Asian writers from the North. We are dedicated to making the process of publishing as accessible and inclusive as possible so no young writers from backgrounds like ours struggle to reach their goals to publishing their books. Our ambition for Fox and Windmill Books, aside from the inclusivity, is to become a hub for aspiring writers where they can voice their questions and where we can lend support and encouragement.
HD: We want to change the London-centric publishing scene. More importantly, we want to show that great stories can be found from communities like ours. If we publish a book that resonates with you then we have achieved our goal.
More information can be found on Fox and Windmill Books’ website.