This year’s shortlist for the Costa Book Awards presents a nice faceoff between titles from big-name publishers and some breakout successes stemming from indies. The 2015 Costa First Novel Award, in particular, has a couple of outstanding titles from tiny yet brilliant publishing houses. Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume, surely destined for many a dog lover’s Christmas list, owed its genesis to Ireland’s Tramp Press, before tramping over to Penguin Random House’s Windmill Books. And The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley, which I had the pleasure of reviewing before for TeleRead, first saw light with the very tiny, very wonderful Tartarus Press, before going on to John Murray and film deal stardom.
If we’re stretching the definition of independent, then The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer, from Faber, and Things We Have in Common, by Tasha Kavanagh, from Canongate, also in the First Novel lineup, count too. But it’s those up-from-nowhere successes that really stand out. And the Kindle edition of The Loney is up for grabs at a specially discounted price on Amazon UK, so it’s well worth picking up right now.
Evidently, we’re looking at a pattern in UK publishing now where small houses with exceptional commissioning policies nose out some great talents for larger, staider publishers to capitalize on later. You’d think that the Big Five could absorb the risks, and employ the scouts, to bring in those new talents earlier, but evidently not. The indies, meanwhile, can pride themselves on outperforming bloated multinationals off comparatively minuscule headcounts.
Tartarus Press is still enjoying some of the fruits of its success with The Loney, meanwhile. It’s put up a slightly damaged first edition copy up on eBay for auction, “starting at 99 pence [$1.51],” with all proceeds going to charity. At the time of writing, it’s already been bid up to £72.00 ($110). Mind you, as Tartarus founder Ray Russell notes, “the only other copy available online (albeit a pristine example) is £600 [$917], so please bid generously!” You couldn’t wish for a more richly deserved testament to Tartarus’s exquisite bookmaking.