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Learning in Leeds: Small Press Publishing, from Peepal Tree to Peekash Press

by Shivanee Ramlochan

It is cold in Leeds. The work continues.

I’m here for three weeks as a publishing intern at Peepal Tree Press. My first book, Everyone Knows I Am a Haunting, was released with Peepal Tree in October, but my awareness of this stalwart indie press, which is as old as I am, stretches back more than a decade. I work with the NGC Bocas Lit Fest, the Anglophone Caribbean’s largest literary festival, and the relationship between Bocas and Peepal Tree is supportive, sustaining. It needs to be.

Almost anyone who tries to get their book published in the Caribbean will tell you it isn’t easy, or at the very least, it takes some doing. A handful of hardworking presses, including Paria Publishing in Trinidad and Tobago; Blue Banyan Books, and Ian Randle Publishers, both in Jamaica; are a mixture of decades-old veteran institutions and plucky, resourceful entrepreneurial startups. As a new writer trying to get your novel in print, you’re more likely to outsource print-on-demand services from the States than you are to print locally.

Why is that? Cost, perhaps. Peace of mind, perhaps more worryingly. It begs the question: how can we better offer services, based wholly on Caribbean soil, that take a book from unedited manuscript to fully finished, hot off the presses and ready to sell?

Peekash Press aims to answer that question: to bridge the plentiful gaps identified in the region for writers and would-be publishers of high-quality literary work (as opposed to commercial or corporate printing, for which many outlets do exist in the Caribbean). Peekash was the brainchild of the CaribLit initiative, activated by CALAG (Caribbean Literature Action Group), a movers and shakers team of people with clout who wanted to see Caribbean literature grow. CALAG first met in April 2012, with administrative guidance from Bocas, the British Council and the Commonwealth Foundation. Soon after, over a handful of beers, Peepal Tree Press’ Jeremy Poynting and Akashic Books’ Johnny Temple hammered out the working prototype for Peekash. It’s been nearly four anthologies since then, with the upcoming publication of Peekash’s newest title, So Many Islands: Stories from the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Indian and Pacific Oceans.

I’m accustomed to wearing many hats in service to Caribbean writing, and I’m here in Leeds to see how I can best serve Peekash. With the publication of So Many Islands, Peekash will be administered by Bocas, which means that a new publishing house, with much to offer Caribbean people and their stories, is properly coming home. What is important is ensuring that we have all the skills we need to welcome it.

Who teaches the intricacies of publishing in the Caribbean? Is there a publishing degree, a series of tertiary-level courses, a slew of ready apprenticeships? If not, why not? Is it truly necessary, as I have done, to travel across the Atlantic to learn ‘the A to Z of independent publishing’, hands on?

Maybe not. Yet there is something to be said for the fact that I have felt more welcome here, as a publishing intern, than in any other place, offering any similar skills, on my own island. Cold or not, that’s a good place to begin. 

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