Will speaks to The Publishing Profile about launching a publishing house during lockdown and the special books on his shelves.
Hi! I’m the Publisher at Renard Press, a new independent publisher of classic and contemporary fiction, non-fiction, theatre and poetry. One of the joys (if you choose to see it that way!) of independent publishing is that you have to be adaptive and blur the edges of traditional roles, so I commission, edit, typeset, design and run the social media too! How did you get into publishing? Blood, sweat and tears! I’ve always been a voracious reader, and decided quite early on that I wanted to work with words in one form or another, so I studied English Literature and Creative Writing, hoping that I’d find a way to make a career out of it. While I was studying, I sought the advice of a Publisher, who suggested that I enrolled on the Publishing Training Centre’s Proofreading by Distance Learning course – sage advice which I often repeat to others – which I completed in the evenings and weekends during my third year. When I graduated I moved to London and found an internship at a small independent publisher of beautifully produced books (while working in a Shoreditch nightclub and in retail to pay the bills), and the internship gradually morphed into an assistantship. A little while later, I received funding from the wonderful Book Trade Charity to attend an Adobe Creative Suite training course, which set me up for moving into design and production, and I think it’s this combination that really gave me the ‘in’ to the world of independent publishing. Renard Press launched in June 2020 – what has it been like to launch a publishing house during lockdown? Interesting question! Honestly, there have been both good and bad sides to starting up now. Obviously, while much of the industry has been furloughed, it was difficult to get the ball rolling, and it’s led to a slight delay between ‘launch’ and our first title appearing in bookshops. But at the same time, I’ve been absolutely overwhelmed by the support from friends, family, the social-media community, the trade – I think there’s a real sense of in-trade camaraderie at the moment, so I haven’t struggled to get the word out. I spoke to our print rep yesterday, and he said, ‘Well, if you can get through this, you can get through anything,’ and I think that’s a strong place to be kicking off from! Has your attitude to reading changed since working in the publishing industry? How has it changed your reading taste or the genre of books you usually read? Absolutely! I think the amount of reading you have to get through at university can dull your love of reading – at least to some extent – and I very much felt that I couldn’t read for pleasure, as that would mean I wasn’t doing the prescribed reading. So there was a real freedom in graduating, in that I could choose what to read again, and when reading became a big part of work again (apart from the odd book you really don’t get on with), it was such a joy. I must say, though, that most of the books I’ve worked on for the past five years or so have been classics, so the books I read outside of work tend to be contemporary.
Is there a book that you have worked on that you are particularly proud of? Why is that? Yes, lots! I have to say, the first time I saw my name in the acknowledgements in a book was quite exciting – how vain! – and I think one of the joys of working on contemporary fiction is that you feel you’ve improved it after the various editorial stages. Largely the jobs I’m most proud of, however, have been classics – in a past life I spent weeks working on an edition of Finnegans Wake, for instance, which was a very fiddly job! I’m also proud, of course, of the books I’ve been preparing for Renard’s launch – in particular Bars Fight, which I’ve just spent a couple of weeks hand-binding in a fiddly concertina format. Where do you buy or access your books? I used to commute from one side of London to the other, and I found having a bank of e-books quite handy for those long journeys, but I really do prefer to read on paper. Working next door to a Waterstone’s was particularly dangerous. Like many, I try to avoid book shopping on Amazon, and I've recently discovered Hive, which has filled the bookshop void over lockdown! What books have you been reading in lockdown? Do these books typify your usual reading taste, or have you found yourself reading other genres and authors? I haven’t had that much extra free time over lockdown, so I haven’t been able to do much binge-reading – that said, I’ve spent more time dipping into a variety of books, so I suppose I’ve been reading more short stories than usual. The new(ish) edition of Angela Carter’s short stories have been a favourite, and I finally got round to reading the second Book of Dust. I’ve dipped into some of Zadie Smith’s short stories, but also some W.W. Jacobs. Also, since Renard has attracted some subscribers before our first official title is released next month, I’ve also been producing special subscriber editions each month, which has required quite a lot of extra reading and research to find appropriate titles, so I’ve had a whale of a time dipping into Saki and Wilde again. In that there’s quite a mix there, I suppose that typifies my reading style!
What’s the best book you’ve received as a gift? Tricky one! I’m always touched when a friend gives me a copy of a book they’ve written, and they often mean a lot to me. I think my favourite of all the books given to me is a first printing of the Jeeves Omnibus, which was an early anniversary present from my partner – Wodehouse is my go-to when I’m under the weather, and it’s a lovely edition.
What is your most beautiful book? I have a small collection of the beautiful early-twentieth-century Macmillan Kipling series, which I think are just stunning.
What is the oldest book on your shelf? Difficult to say, really – my partner and I spend a lot of time (out of lockdown!) in the bookshops on the Charing Cross Road, and have huge amounts of old books. I think the oldest book is from 1758, the sermons of an archbishop, and I was given the family Bible, which is dated 1819.
Which authors or genres do you look forward to reading more of in the future? I’m looking forward to discovering more Restoration comedy – it was my favourite area of study while I was at university, and I completely fell for Aphra Behn. Since kicking off Renard, I’ve been inundated with submissions, which I’m actually really enjoying reading – so I’m looking forward to lots more of those! What are the best books you've read in 2020 so far? In terms of ‘work reading', This Good Book by Iain Hood – that’s why I’m publishing it! I also loved the second Book of Dust, as I mentioned earlier, and I’m a huge fan of Zadie Smith’s writing. I also finally read Lolita this year, which was an experience! Linguistically it was a divine read. What are your most anticipated reads for the rest of the year? Honestly, I’m not sure – I’m still looking forward to my first trip back to Foyles, where I always find about five things I’d never have thought of looking for. At a friend’s insistence, I’ve got Mary Wollstonecraft’s Letters on my to-be-read pile, and I’m looking forward to getting lost in those. I’m also long overdue a trip to the south coast of Spain, so maybe some Lorca ought to make it to the list, too.
Which books should everybody read? This could take a while…! Beyond the classroom staples – Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, etc, I’d say A Room of One’s Own is an all-time favourite; any of Oscar Wilde’s comedies are worth a read; A.S. Byatt’s Possession still haunts me; Saki and Wodehouse should be revisited again and again; W.W. Jacobs is wildly underrated; Angela Carter’s Bloody Chamber is worth a read; and, of course, Aphra Behn's Rover makes the cut. But I think half of the joy of reading is in cultivating a mix – as Aphra says, ‘Variety is the soul of pleasure.' Where can readers find you online?