On being a finalist for the Man Booker Prize 2012
Alison Moore receives her cheque and a beautifully bound copy of The Lighthouse at The Man Booker Prize 2012 reception on 16th of October.
(Photo © Nicholas Royle)
The Salt table, at the centre of the imposing medieval Great Hall in London’s Guildhall sat directly in front of the stage, an extraordinary position, surrounded by the great and the good of UK trade publishing, all (eventually) seated at large tables, each with its ice sculpture of the Man Booker Prize brand — a brand that, like the ice, is firmly etched in my mind.
It was hard to scan the room without meeting the gaze of a major celebrity or key figure from national life. Decontextualised, as we all were, remembering who someone was became rather disconcerting: is this person an old friend or am I deluding myself that I’m a pal with the Governor of the Bank of England? Faces swam by in a sea of semi-recognition: ah, there’s the dapper Bill Swainson, oh, there’s Richard Charkin, too, excuse me, Mr Portillo. Far from feeling like impostors or parvenus, the event, as it unfolded, felt more like a natural part of Salt’s twelve year history, it felt comfortable, delightful and, of course, terrifically exciting. And it felt redefining.
(Photo © Jen Hamilton-Emery)
Two years back, we began repositioning our business and physically moved it from London and Cambridge to Cromer as part of an audacious plan only a nimble independent publisher could perhaps entertain. Becoming non-Metropolitan has its moments: 24 hours before the Man Booker prize ceremony we had been walking the shore of the North Norfolk coast, staring into the lights of distant shipping, watching the German Sea pouring through what sailors once knew as The Devil’s Throat — behind us, the lighthouse at Cromer, cast its light through the darkness, and now, here we were surrounded by marvels at the world’s greatest literary award in the heart of the capital. You might think this would be an improbable contrast, but it seems entirely right. It’s right because literature extends its presence into every life, no matter where that life is lived.
It’s hard to explain what our own three-month journey has felt like: the constant activity, the sleepless nights, the astonishing Twitter campaign, the colossal amounts of reader support, the wonderful sales (naturally) and, perhaps best of all, the countless people we have met and dealt with on delivering a marvellous and, we firmly believe, classic book — The Lighthouse — to a global readership, a readership who have remained passionately engaged with the prize, the authors and the books.
Even more than this, and perhaps for the first time, the Man Booker audience became engaged with the publishers themselves. No longer a matter of corporate branding, that veneer of suits and parties, of London addresses and collegial familiarity. The very nature of the publisher became part of the backstory to the prize and the exceptional moment that we all have found ourselves in, due entirely to the commitment and vision of an incredible set of judges. We can’t thank them highly enough. You could be forgiven for thinking that this is merely this year’s controversial blip, for knowing that next year everything will return to normal with the old houses naturally encompassing the prize once again. Yes, you could be forgiven that this merely added some texture to the judges’ final decision. You’d be wrong though. Among the many changes undergoing publishing has been the steady development of highly committed small independents.
(Photo © Claire Thompson)
Professionally insightful, ethically-driven, book mad, passionate, commercially astute and informed — such things are not merely the corporate context of older houses, these are the necessary, financially-critical components of the new small houses, too. Many of the new houses have refugees from elsewhere in the industry, now that the cost of entry has altered and the key relationships no longer need the increasingly demanding weight of a full London overhead. Small is good. In fact, small is often perfect. What the judges have done is to open a window on the excellence of the new small presses (some indeed not so new) and they have recognised that great books may now emerge from this different and essential component of our thriving literary culture. The economics are changing and it is entirely possible that we are returning to the necessary roots of serious artistic enterprise, to the birth of a new cottage industry. Perhaps, the new publishing economics, our survival, lies in demerging and the urgent prioritisation of great imprints, new and old, as small, focussed, dedicated, independents?