I am in the process of setting up a series of guest posts from smaller or independent publishers. This one comes from Eilidh Smith of Sandstone Press.
Definitions are a tricky thing. Sometimes it is easier to say what a thing is not, rather than what it is, but I will do my best to give a picture (maybe a “sketch” would be better) of who Sandstone Press are and what we do.
Sandstone Press is an independent publishing house based in the Highlands of Scotland. Often folk use the word “small” when talking or writing about us, as if size matters, but we’re not small in outlook or ambition or in the scope of what we like to publish, so I’m not sure what that “small” means. Hopefully beautiful. Maybe special.
If I can even hazard to try and define what we do, in short, we publish bold books. Not one of the books on our shelves is just a read, they all have much more to them than that.
After leaving a thirty year career in civil engineering, Robert Davidson decided that he would take a risk, follow his bold idea, vision and passion and set up a publishing house based in the Highlands. The fabled managing director working from his bedroom is not an entirely inaccurate way to describe us.
On his daily walk down by the Cromarty Firth, he could see both the Old Distillery flats where he now lives and Ben Wyvis beyond and, in his imagination, the Torridon hills in the west and the tenement flats of Glasgow from his past . . . all based on that geological granddad, sandstone. Torridonian sandstone is one of the oldest rock formations in the world and many consider Torridon to be the one of the world’s most beautiful places. To create that environment, tremendous geological forces had come into play. Long periods of time were required as well as great pressure. To complete the process the whole thing had to be, literally, turned upside down. He thought about the history of the material’s creation, such revolutionary force leading to such incredible beauty and, of course, that it is also a building material. Sandstone appeared to be the perfect elemental symbol for what he was trying to achieve.
Sandstone Press has traveled a long way since those first founding days (though literally speaking, the company is still firmly rooted to its Highland base). In the past year there has been a major increase in the number of fiction titles published and, happily for me, the creation of a new role to help promote and market the books. A wonderful job in the Highlands involving books – what more could you ask for?
Sandstone Press has a strong list of outdoor titles, some that are re-imaginings of mountain classics, others which are new travelogues, inspirational experience lead journals of adventures in Scotland and beyond. Then there is the fiction and memoir . . . all bold books, impossible to pigeonhole (a fact about which we are very happy).
There was an amazing change at Sandstone after the Man Booker Prize long listing for Jane Roger’s “The Testament of Jessie Lamb”.
We were struggling to get books into the hands of opinion formers; reviewers and journalists were either too busy or just plain disinterested in giving us the time of day . . . though perhaps “struggling” is not the right word. “Valiantly endeavouring to” has more of the hope and enthusiasm with which we approached the task.
Then, suddenly, the phone was ringing off the hook. Big papers and big names in the literary world were desperate for review copies and background information on the Man Booker Long Listed title, and was there anything else interesting on our shelf we’d like to tell them about? It was like moving from an atmosphere where you were leaning into a very strong wind just to keep upright, to the wind dropping and it all becoming much, much easier.
By far the most entertaining call was from a paper that will remain nameless, asking that we “bike a copy over before 5 pm so as our literary editor can read it over the weekend”. Even though he’d have jumped at the chance of such an adventure, my 8 year old nephew who had been running up and down the not inconsiderable hill between home office and post office to help clear the decks in the wake of the Booker Long List announcement was a little on the young side to make the 570 mile trip from the Highlands to London. So I told them it’d be with them on Monday and I hoped that’d be all right. Thankfully, it was.
And where next for Sandstone Press? We have our eyes set firmly on the horizon. We will continue to print bold books, and thanks to nine years of hard effort and the support of the company directors, our vision to be a Highland based publishing house with a global outlook is being realised. Our books are sought after around the world, we have writers based in the Far East, nearer-by Norway, America, Australia and Canada.
We continue to seek out the best of our homegrown talent as well as casting our net to foreign shores. Gaelic titles and a strong element of education are our past, but we bring those values with us into our present and future.
I’m not sure exactly what sort of picture that paints of Sandstone Press. Hopefully you will see it as we do: a colourful, vibrant publishing operation, undaunted by our physical location on the outskirts of things.
After all, sometimes the best views are from the edge.