Friday, 19 November 2010

New fiction endeavour in Manchester: The Hidden Gem Press

Manchester has a small but formidable publishing output. Carcanet has made its home in the city for forty years as one of the foremost independent poetry publishers in the country. Manchester University Press has been publishing leading academic research for a hundred years, third only to Oxford and Cambridge in terms of output. In the world of fiction, Comma Press continues a fruitful love affair with the short story, unearthing talent and winning awards along the way. And now joining the fold is The Hidden Gem Press. About to be launched by husband and wife team, Brian and Sherry Ashworth, the press has a perfectly simple and ambitious remit, ‘to publish good quality novels from the best of emerging writers – and we have a distinctly north-west flavour.’

Manhattanchester spoke with Sherry Ashworth ...

How long has your idea for a Manchester fiction house been incubating?

Sherry: Forever. My experience as a writer has typically been that of long trips via Virgin down to London to be lunched by Camillas and Chlamydias who have no idea of life up north. It struck me as a real pity that there wasn't a fiction house here in this far more exciting city. But also more recently it's becoming very clear that the publishing industry is going the way of the music industry – away from big labels/multinationals towards indie – indie publishers all over the country are scooping awards and selling books – and we want a piece of the action. And also as a creative writer tutor at MMU I see so much talent and don't want it to go to waste.

Do you think it’s harder than it might have been in the past for new voices to find their way into print?

Yes it IS harder for new writers to break through – in these recessionary times the big publishers aren't taking risks. Or they need to make megabucks in order to justify themselves to the men in suits – hence the great success of Susan Boyle. But indie presses will change all that.

How will The Hidden Gem fit in with your day jobs?

Easily. Brian is retired so he actually WANTS to dash here, there and everywhere in the interests of promoting good fiction. I just love reading new writing and shouting about the good stuff I find – this isn't work – it's fun, fun, fun!

Whose idea was the name, it’s terrific!

The name was my idea – came to me in the middle of the night. It IS a nod in the direction of the church, but will also describe out books and our writers.

Are you optimistic for the future of The Novel as a form?

Yeah – while people are still literate there'll always be an audience for a good read. They may be reading on their Kindles, but they'll still be reading.

What will be the first title from The Hidden Gem stable?

Our first title is *ta dah* Hungry, The Stars and Everything by the wonderful Emma Jane Unsworth. Emma is a freelance journalist who's had her short fiction published in a number of places. Hungry is her debut novel. It's stylish, funny, and absolutely delicious. The heroine – Helen Burns – now where have we heard THAT name before?? – is a restaurant critic, with a loving partner who cooks her gourmet meals and now she has an assignment to review Manchester’s latest and best new restaurant, tipped for a Michelin star. But who is the mystery chef? And how come each morsel on the tasting menu is so exquisite, and triggers Helen’s memories of a not-so-perfect past? Hungry is not so much chick-lit as chic-lit – and I know it will be to everyone's taste.

The Hidden Gem Press will officially launch at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation on Thursday 25th November at 6.30 pm. Admission is free and the bar and café will be open for the duration. Emma Unsworth will be reading from her novel Hungry, The Stars and Everything alongside Zoe Lambert, who'll be reading from her new short story collection The War Tour.

Hungry, The Stars and Everything will publish in 2011.

International Anthony Burgess Foundation, The Engine House, Chorlton Mill, Cambridge Street.

Map here.

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