My indie publisher of the month for April is Canongate Books – chosen because of a purchase that brought back many memories – of which more later.
In their own words Canongate are:-
Fiercely independent and as committed to unorthodox and innovative publishing as ever.
Since 1973 we’ve worked to unearth and amplify the most vital, exciting voices we can find, wherever they come from, and we’ve published all kinds of books – thoughtful, upsetting, gripping, beatific, vulgar, chaste, unrepentant, life-changing…
Along the way there have been landmarks of fiction – including Alasdair Gray’s masterpiece Lanark, and Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, the best-ever-selling Booker winner – and non-fiction too. We’ve published an American president and a Guantanamo detainee; we’ve campaigned for causes we believe in and fought court cases to get our authors heard. And twice we’ve won Publisher of the Year.
Canongate spent its first two decades publishing many wonderful Scottish writers. Today the company works with authors from all over the world, but that national tradition – and every book in our backlist – remains alive and vibrant. In 2008, a short-run reprint of Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain led to it becoming one of Canongate’s bestselling backlist books and made Shepherd a posthumous superstar. She’s now the first woman ever to appear on a main issue Scottish bank note.
Following a buyout in 1994, Canongate broadened its focus beyond Scotland and Scottish literature. The Pocket Canons, which published individual books of the Bible with introductions from public figures including Bono and the Dalai Lama, announced a completely new kind of publishing for Canongate: diverse, youthful, radical and global.
So about that book.
Last month I spotted, and just had to buy, a book that I first read in the 1980’s as part of a trilogy. A Scots Quair trilogy was written by Lewis Grassic Gibbon, who published the three titles over three years as Sunset Song (1932), Cloud Howe (1933), and Grey Granite (1934). It was a series I loved.
Having lived and studied in Glenrothes, Stirling and Glasgow between 1980-86 I was drawn to books with a Scottish theme although usually with a predominantly Glasgow setting. A Scots Quair though broke that pattern, as it’s set in the fictional village of Kinraddie, in the real life area of The Mearns in Aberdeenshire. The story follows the life of its heroine Chris Guthrie and her family in the period leading up to the Great War through to the Depression of the 1930’s.
It is the first book though, Sunset Song, that is the most loved of the three concentrating as it does on the momentous shift in society that was wrought by the war. It sees a small, rural, crofting community become irrevocably changed. Not only does it describe a society that might be alien to many of us, it does so, in Gibbon’s own version of the local dialect. I found myself totally immersed in the world he created and the characters that inhabited it. So when I saw a new edition published in February this year, with a forward by the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon I was reminded about how much I’d loved it the first time around. Her words echoed my thoughts and I was immediately prompted to buy a copy.
“If this new edition is prompting you to re-read Sunset Song after many years, as I have just done, you will find it has lost none of its appeal and emotion. And if you are about to read this remarkable novel for the first time, you are embarking on a profound journey” (Nicola Sturgeon)
Faced with a choice between a harsh farming life and the world of books and learning, Chris Guthrie chooses to remain in her rural community, bound by her intense love of the land.
But everything changes with the arrival of the First World War and Chris finds her land altered beyond recognition. In lyrical prose, Sunset Song evokes village life in the early twentieth century and offers a powerful portrait of a land and people in turmoil. This stunning new edition of one of the most cherished Scottish novels of the twentieth century includes a specially commissioned introduction by Nicola Sturgeon, in which she writes with heartfelt passion of her love for what she regards as ‘one of the finest literary accomplishments Scotland has ever known . . . In no small way, I owe my love of literature to Sunset Song’.