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Saltire Award winner Sandstone Press just the tip of publishing iceberg in the Highlands

By Barbara Henderson

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If you lift a book off the shelf, do you normally check who publishes it?

No, I didn’t think so. Neither do I.

Publishers are so often the unsung heroes of the book world. We see the booksellers run around the shop to find us the perfect next read. The writer’s name is emblazoned on the front page of every book we buy, borrow and devour, with the publishers often reduced to a logo on the spine and the small print beneath the ISBN number.

I thought it was time to redress that balance, especially as we in the north of Scotland have a lot to shout about in this regard.

At the recent Saltire Awards in Edinburgh, Highland-based international publisher Sandstone Press – winner of the International Booker Prizer for its translation of Celestial Bodies – was named Scottish publisher of the year.

That’s right, the top award went to the Highlands, not to a central belt venture.

Now, considering how they started out – in a back room of a flat in Dingwall, since you ask – that is an amazing achievement. But it doesn’t stop there – Sandstone’s Kay Farrell, a former pupil at Alness Academy, scooped the emerging publisher of the year award, sharing the prize with Oban-based Alan Windram.

At the Saltire Awards (from left) Robert Davidson of Sandstone Press with the Scottish publisher of the year award, Moira Forsyth and young publisher of the year Kay Farrell.
At the Saltire Awards (from left) Robert Davidson of Sandstone Press with the Scottish publisher of the year award, Moira Forsyth and young publisher of the year Kay Farrell.

Windram, in turn, is a publisher, writer and musician who also won the Scottish Book Trust’s Book Bug prize with his picture book One Button Benny. His and wife Susan’s publishing company Little Door Books seeks to open doors for debut writers and illustrators, and it has been a welcome addition to the Scottish picture book scene.

Nairn-based debut writer-illustrator Corrina Campbell is one of the lucky ones to be signed for this year’s list.

Also shortlisted for the emerging publisher Saltire was Anne Glennie, the catalyst behind my own publishers, Cranachan Publishing, specialising in Scottish children’s and teen fiction. They have been the perfect home for my historical and eco-books and have a fantastic range of resources for schools to accompany their output. It is great to see a company based on the Isle of Lewis, with staff in Aviemore, succeed nationwide and beyond.

But what about Gaelic, I hear you ask. Again, the north of Scotland is able to hold its head high, with Stornoway publisher Acair the go-to specialist for children’s and adult books in the language, as well as bilingual products, too. While producing many books independently, Acair’s Gaelic publication process is often assisted and encouraged by supporting agencies such as Bòrd na Gàidhlig and the Gaelic Books Council.

And then, let’s not forget smaller ventures and start-ups, or the specialists. Take Pauline Mackay’s Ablekids Press, for example. Based in a beautiful shop-come-office up the Market Steps in Inverness, she produces glorious and colourful bilingual picture books, promoting language learning and celebrating Scottish culture as well as cultures around the world.

In a timely fashion, her latest offering is just out. Her popular hero Wee MacNessie returns with a Chinese-themed adventure in Wee MacNessie and the Lion Dance. And there are others: Dalen, a graphic novel specialist in Stornoway; Whittles Publishing in Caithness with their maritime and natural world focus; comic-publisher Zertex in Fort William; Crowvus in Wick… the list goes on.

Many of these smaller companies are run by one or two enthusiasts who simply seek to place the best reading material into your hands.

Well, it looks like we have it covered up here, doesn’t it? Picture books, chapter books, YA books, Gaelic books, crime, history, literary fiction, non-fiction and coffee-table photography – all of it is on offer up here and produced to the highest of standards.

The death of the book, they said.

Cough cough.

I don’t think so. Not here. Not on our watch!

Look out for: Wee MacNessie and the Lion Dance by Inverness author Pauline Mackay.

Wee MacNessie and the Lion Dance.
Wee MacNessie and the Lion Dance.

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