Friday 30 August 2013

In praise of Saraband

Saraband has won the Saltire Society's Publisher of the Year award (see here). I'm not remotely surprised. I have, over the past eight years, been published by four different publishers: the tiny poetry pamphlet and magazine publisher Essencepress, the tiny Hebridean-based literary outfit Two Ravens Press, the huge London-based subsidiary of multinational Random House, Virgin Books, and Saraband. Saraband has been in every way the best publisher of them all. They published Bear Witness, my second novel, earlier this year and this autumn will see the release of Into the Forest, an anthology of tree poems.

Saraband is based in Glasgow, so they're right at the heart of Scotland's book scene and much easier to reach than London, so that means I have experienced for the first time a publisher being both accessible and guiding me into where the buzz is. They have been a delight to work with: never remote, always enthusiastic, consulting me on all phases of the books' development and proactive about promotion. These are all good things, but there are three main aspects of Saraband's approach that really stand out.

First of all, they make the most beautiful books. That's why I first approached them with the idea for Into the Forest. Their design work is the best in the country - from gorgeous coffee-table books like Woodlanders and the Panda book, to the elegant and workable pocket guides to Scottish trees and Scottish wild harvests. They also do adventurous and unconventional, like The Cottage Garden Diaries, with its cloth cover and old-world style that so fits the story within. Like every writer, I long for my work to be made into really beautiful books, and Saraband does just that. The design and illustrations for the tree poetry anthology is in process just now, and it's looking gorgeous.

The design of Bear Witness also illustrated the second great thing about Saraband: as a publisher of books about nature, sustainability and eco-literature, they really walk the talk. In my day job I campaign for sustainability in the paper industry. Before I was taken on by Saraband, Sara Hunt had already read my book Paper Trails so she knew how I feel about this issue, and to my delight, she has always proactively worked to ensure that my books are made from the most sustainable paper available. This means 100% post-consumer waste paper, both inside and for the cover, and she has made sure it hasn't reduced the aesthetic quality of the books one bit. I have lost count of the people who have commented on how lovely the paper feels. But Saraband didn't stop here. The cover card that would have been offcut at the printer was used to create special bookmarks for the book, to make sure nothing was wasted - a nice marketing touch but also an indication of just how thoughtful the whole team is about their use of natural resources. So the books they produce are 'eco' to the very core, not just in the words they contain.

But most of all what I admire about Saraband, and the third thing I want to praise them from the rooftops for, is what lovely people they are. I feel that I fall into step so easily with everyone I meet who has a link with them. They're kind and good humoured, generous with time and altogether human. They put a lot of effort into praising people who are doing the right thing, and reaching out to co-operate with other people and organisations in Scotland's literary world. I know that many people, not only those of us lucky enough to be directly involved with them, will be delighted by the recognition they have received. Isn't it good to know that sometimes it really is the best team, with the nicest people, that wins?

The Saltire Award was given this year to honour the memory of Gavin Wallace, who did so much to help literature in Scotland. I feel sure he would have been pleased with Saraband's win, and I'm proud that Into the Forest will also be dedicated to his memory.


Wednesday 14 August 2013

Special birthday offer on Bear Witness for the next three days

It's my birthday on Saturday, and I want to share the presents around, so anyone who buys Bear Witness from my website will get a copy of The Last Bear for free. Why do this? I simply love it when people read my bear books and enjoy them - that's the best birthday present I can get.

I'm also spectacularly chuffed that A L Kennedy says Bear Witness is 'Moving, intelligent and quietly passionate,' and I hope you'll agree.

Get your free book here, and please spread the word. The offer will end when I've opened the post on Saturday 17 August.

Monday 12 August 2013


I have returned to the croft after a month in the arctic in June and then a month as poet in residence at the Edinburgh Royal Botanic Garden: two huge privileges and amazing to do them back to back. I blogged pretty much every day of July at so it has been good to take a breath since I got back, and just be here in the wild wood. Each day there's another marvel to discover, or rediscover. It's that time of year when you get aromatherapy for free all day, every day - the soft sea breeze is dense with honeysuckle and heather blossom fragrances, and trees talk in their native tongue.

I've also returned to Hesse, as I do, from time to time, as to an old friend. Here he is on trees (from Wandering).

'So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts. Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.'
Wishing you all childish thoughts, and happiness.