IN CONVERSATION WITH: Kay Farrell, Assistant Publisher at Sandstone Press. We spoke to her about all her favourite projects and what we can expect from the independent publisher going forward.
From speculative to Gaelic fiction, Sandstone seems quite versatile. What can you tell us about Sandstone Press and what you publish?
Sandstone Press was founded in 2002. We publish fiction and non-fiction in a wide range of areas and have a clear mission to be Scottish in character and international in outlook. This means the list is pretty eclectic – to mention only a few, we have a strong list of Scottish outdoor-focused titles, the translation of the Volker Kutscher books which inspired the Babylon Berlin TV series, Scottish crime including Lesley Kelly’s incredibly prescient Health of Strangers thrillers (it’s about how an incredibly contagious virus affects day to day life). Our first science fiction title was in Gaelic – it’s called An Taistealach, the voyager. What the books we publish have in common is strong writing and engaging narratives so there’s a lot of scope to publish the books that really speak to the editorial team and which we believe will also speak to our readers. Personally, I’m particularly excited by books which subvert expectations or established norms.
How has your experience been working on The Actuality? How does it feel knowing that it’s already been optioned by BBC Studios, for example?
Working with Paul was terrific. As an editor, you want to be working with an author who is excited for the editing process – who understands that your editor can love every part of what you’ve written and still say, this needs a bit of work, you don’t need this, this needs more context… I loved the initial text, of course. Paul has done an amazing job of creating Evie, the artificial woman, as this clearly inhuman character who is nonetheless very sympathetic and relatable. It’s a timely piece too, with so much debate about AI and how robots and humans will interact in future. I’m so excited that the BBC have optioned it – it will make a great series. The book is both fast-paced and thoughtful and I can’t wait to see who they cast and what they make of the characters.
What has been your favourite project to work on with Sandstone Press?
This is a really tough question! I’ve worked with so many great authors and each experience has been uniquely exciting and challenging. My favourite part of my job is collaborating with the authors and there are so many I love!
I’ll speak about two books which had particularly compelling journeys. The first is Celestial Bodies (2018) by Jokha Alharthi, the book which won the Man Booker International Prize in 2019. I remember when it first came in and I read it through, I loved how it made me feel. All the rich details of life in Oman, a culture I know nothing about, really placed me in that world. And Jokha’s characterisation in that book is brilliant too, with reader’s sympathies shifting as we learn more about the different characters. The edit itself was pretty light, as it usually is when working on a translated text – it’s a balance of staying true to the original while bearing in mind the needs of the readers you are publishing for. To see how much success it had, and how well received it’s been around the whole world, was an absolute joy.
A more personal project for me was Sweet Fruit, Sour Land (2018) by Rebecca Ley. It was the first title on the list to have a strong speculative element, set in a future Britain where food is scarce and women’s bodies are a resource. Rebecca was another great writer to work with, very giving and keen to make the best version of the novel possible. She was also a real champion for her own work, which is very important particularly with a debut novel! Post-publication was an interesting journey for this book as it was divisive, in large part I think due to the feminist themes. The readers who loved it though really loved it and it went on to win the Guardian Not The Booker Prize and a Betty Trask Award.
We’re excited about another upcoming novel Sandstone are publishing, Kings of a Dead World. What can you tell us about that?
I’m so excited about this book! Kings of a Dead World (2021) focuses on two characters in a future world where the Earth’s resources have all but run out and so the majority of the population is forced into long periods of hibernation to reduce the strain. Peruzzi is a ‘janitor’ who oversees the sleepers while Ben is stuck in the sleeping city. From these interwoven narratives the reader is brought firmly into this world and asked to question the nature of power, loneliness, authority and family. Jamie Mollart, the author, is a really cool, laidback guy so it’s interesting that this book is so full of tension and suspense. The climax blew me away and I just can’t wait to hear what readers think!
A huge thank you goes to Kay Farrell, Assistant Publisher at Sandstone Press, for speaking to us about all things Sandstone, and to Ceris Jones for sending us The Actuality. You can find the publisher on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook – @sandstonepress. Visit their website and explore their new and current releases.