BBC Scotland had a great little arts programme tonight dedicated to Edinburgh-based Canongate Books which was a delight to see. For those who don’t know them, Canongate are a Scottish publisher of a wonderfully independent bent; they have managed the tricky balancing act of maintaining artistic and literary integrity, support for Scottish talent and building a national an international reputation and list (some of you probably know them through the huge bestselling and Booker winning Life of Pi).
The programme was timed to coincide with their latest, unusual venture – in collaboration with a multitude of other publishers around the whole word they had a simultaneous publication of a new range of books based on world myths. Karen Armstrong has written a short but fascinating introductory book to the series A Short History of Myth; Margaret Atwood has written the Penelopiad, telling the Odyssey from Penelope’s point of view instead of Ulysses. More writers from around the world have been persuaded by Jamie Byng to take part and since they can choose any myth and then re-interpret it in any way it has the potential to run and run. Mythic archetypes underpin so many of our stories and it is good to see this well-spring of literature being so well displayed.
I think the really nice thing about Canongate though is that they have enjoyed some great success with a number of writers, earning good sales and critical acclaim, yet they remain in Edinburgh and continue to be very supportive and nurturing of new Scottish talent as well as international writers. Their Scottish list runs from damned fine newer authors such as Anne Donovan through to Alasdair Gray (their special anniversary hardback slipcase of his novel Lanark, split into four hardback volumes, each signed and numbered by Al and with his artwork all over them is one of my mnost treasured of my signed books – it is also one of the best and most unusual fantasy works and I think the best Scottish novel of the 20th century). Nice to see them being celebrated and I wish them the best, because they print some really good books and the literary scene would be far poorer without them
Oh, and Jamie really knows how to fling a launch party! I’ve been to more than my share of book launches, large and small but Canongate always throw really good ones (obviously this doesn’t influence me at all!).