I felt, by the end, that I had been reading an epic tale, not a novel – rhythmic, mystical, poetic.

Alison Coles, BookOxygen

A work of haunting beauty that celebrates the courage and resilience of the human spirit.

Jenny Garrod, Dundee University Review of the Arts

We’re thrilled to see Avril Joy listed on the Not the Booker prize long list among writers who are household names and writers who have yet to find their limelight. Avril is up against Julian Barnes, Edna O’Brien and Rachel Cusk, but we are not daunted or deterred. Last year, the short list of six did not contain the starry names. The Guardian’s Sam Jordison wrote “On the subject of those lucky six, I’m happy to say that I know very little about them.”

As Avril’s publisher, I confess that this novel is one of my personal favourites among the many superb books on our list. It came in as a submission and I couldn’t put it down. I don’t say that very often. For me, it’s a feminist narrative that rolls out its agenda with a quiet but insistent courage. The naive, original, lyrical voice of Aiyana Weir is the voice of all women who live with abuse and brutality, and in particular the women in her 1930s river community in Arkansas who are numbed into silence and passivity by the dominance and cruelty of their men. Only her grandmother, a mythical figure steeped in wisdom, and her brother support her. Aiyana knows that only literacy will allow her to leave her beloved river and so makes her plans with resourcefulness and determination. Accompanying Aiyana in her quest is the river, epic and steadfast. She is tuned in to its moods and movement, to its seasons and sorrows:

Summer come, is the month of June. Moon like a strawberry. Life grow easy and open… Sun lick the morning awake, lick the trees. Leaves turn their backs to silver in the southern breeze. Sunlight spark on the wings of a kingfisher as it fly downstream.

In an accompanying article about the Booker long list, The Guardian is chuffed that ‘tiny publishers’ are represented on the long list and are in with a good chance alongside the Big Five. Juliet Maybe of Oneworld says, “When you’re a small publisher up against the big five or six, it’s hard to get the attention of reviewers, and of bookseller promotions. But this makes it a more level playing field… It’s especially great for indies. They already publish with heart, and it’s great to get commercial rewards as well.” OK, none of the independent presses in the list is a massive monopoly, but those of us who are truly tiny indies would like to take issue with the definition given in this piece. Saraband is a tiny Scottish press run by two people who work very hard to get attention: “our experience is that we send out hundreds of copies, and review copies, and batter down the doors of people on the literary desks.” Now, suddenly, they are in huge demand. “Sara Hunt’s phone is ringing off the hook with sales, rights and publicity inquiries.” Listed next is Salt which is well established, well known and has six full time members of staff. They made the short list four years ago with The Lighthouse. Finally Oneworld has a staff of twenty-one after winning last year’s Booker with A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James. No longer a tiny press.

Bridget Shine, chief executive of the Independent Publishers Guild agrees that simply being placed on the Booker list is a massive boost for small presses. “Getting books on to the Man Booker prize longlist can have lots of great benefits for smaller independent publishers. As well as lifting sales, it shines a spotlight on lesser-known authors and the publisher itself, raising its profile among readers, booksellers, authors and agents alike … It’s a triumph for good books, published with passion.”

But for now, we’ll put aside our quibbles about who is and who isn’t a tiny press and stay focused on the Not The Booker Prize list. We wish Avril Joy all the luck in the world in collecting votes that will jettison her into the short list of six where her visibility will be much magnified. If you love Sometimes A River Song as much as we do, please add your vote here:
Not the Booker Prize Long List
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Thank you – from all of us at Linen Press.

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