Five years ago, Cultured Llama published its first book, strange fruits, by Maria C. McCarthy. Here’s what Maria has to say about how Cultured Llama was conceived:
I was laid up with a bad back early in 2011, and while I was resting, I came up with the idea of publishing a book of poetry to raise money for MacMillan Cancer Support. My friend Karen McAndrew had recently died after a short illness, and I wanted to do something to help others who were going through what Karen, her friends and family had been through. Having the good fortune of being married to a publisher, Bob Carling, it was not long before the idea became reality. We bought 10 ISBNs (you couldn’t purchase just one), thought of a name for our imprint (I have a thing about llamas), and off we went. We had no money, no business plan, no funding from the Arts Council or the like – we just did it. We brought in help from friends who offered cover designs, website hosting, even stuffing books into jiffy bags.
The idea was that Cultured Llama would publish poetry and short fiction, plus what we first named Cultural Non-Fiction, and later became Curious Things. It was not until a year after strange fruits appeared that the next book was published, A Radiance, Bethany W. Pope’s debut poetry collection, and we were dealing with a flood of submissions. Somehow, word got around about our new publishing house (could it have been my addiction to Twitter at the time?).
It has been exhausting, exciting, at times infuriating, and never, never dull. We have maintained a kind of do-it-yourself punk ethic to how we run Cultured Llama. We have never applied for funding, which means that books have to pay for themselves fairly quickly, and we do rely on a team of helping Llamas to keep us going, plus the hard work of our authors in getting their books known and sold.
I guess I am the face mainly seen on social media – my role is choosing books to publish and editing the poetry and short fiction collections, but Editor Bob really does most of the work – the typesetting and design, dealing with the printers, the more technical side of this website. And a big shout out is due to Anne-Marie Jordan, non-fiction editor and sister stuffer-of-books-into-jiffy-bags.
In June of this year, we publish our 27th book, There Are No Foreign Lands, a debut poetry collection by Mark Holihan. Mark has been known to us for a long time, as a great poetry voice, reading his work at open mics and other events in Kent. It is astonishing that this is Mark’s first book – why has no-one snapped up his work before? Mark is also Cultured Llama’s graphic designer, responsible for the majority of our book covers. It’s about time Mark came out from behind the scenes to showcase his wonderful poems, and we are proud to publish them.
We asked some of our followers on our Facebook page what they like about Cultured Llama:
A sustained level of quality. Cultured Llama has introduced me to some great writers.
Great writers, great quality, great diversity!
Its willingness to take a risk in good writing that might not fit the conventional mould.
I love the fact you also publish short story collections when, according to Philip Hensher, there are fewer and fewer outlets for short story writers.
I like the close editorial attention paid by the Cultured Llama team and a sense of generosity and openness which runs through everything they and their writers do.
Highlights of the five years? I remember some of the events to launch our books, at places as diverse as The Chapel, a pub and a bookshop (what’s not to like?) for Gordon Meade’s Sounds of the Real World; a cookery and gardening shop on The Pantiles, Tunbridge Wells for Digging Up Paradise by Sarah Salway; wine and welshcakes at Lynne Rees’s home to launch The Hungry Writer; and a musical launch of Do It Yourself: A History of Music in Medway by Stephen H. Morris in a pub, featuring some of the bands from the book, with Editor Bob and our author Peter Cook jamming on guitar, with me and my daughter singing into an offered microphone. I believe the chorus of the Stuart Turner and the Flat Earth Society song was, “We’re all going back to the workhouse”. What a night, what a time its been. Here’s to five more years, Cheers!