The real ‘Northern Powerhouse’ exists in the publishers propping up northern writers
Some things can be both real and imaginary at the same time…
― Joanne Harris (from Barnsley)
When the phrase ‘Northern Powerhouse’ is mentioned, it’s usually associated with words like ‘investment’, ‘innovation’ or ‘skills’, serving to prop up an imaginary entity that could easily pass for a terribly named gym franchise based anywhere above Birmingham.
But where is the real power in the north? Well, we have reason to think that it’s in solid, tangible, real things, like books (and e-books).
The Northern Fiction Alliance (NFA) recently announced that the publishing industry should move north. In an open letter to big-time publishers, it spoke of a need to ‘better reflect its readers and society’.
The NFA is doing this already, led by the likes of Comma Press (Manchester), Peepal Tree Press (Leeds), Dead Ink Books (Liverpool), And Other Stories (Sheffield), Saraband (Salford), Blue Moose (Hebden Bridge) Tilted Axis (Sheffield) Mayfly (Newcastle), Route (Pontefract), Valley Press (Scarborough) and Wrecking Ball (Hull).
This would suggest that there’s a very real independent scene, with a vanguard of forward-thinking publishers now ready to sell their success story to the South.
The NFA itself believes that the industry should be ‘diversifying our workforces and, perhaps more importantly, dispersing across the UK in order to better engage with and embolden a new generation of writers, readers and aspiring publishers’.
Could we soon have a Simon & Schuster in Sheffield? A Bloomsbury in Bury, or a Pan Macmillan in Merseyside? I wouldn’t expect them to up sticks based solely on alliteration opportunities, of course; but with myriad examples of investment, innovation and skills to point to, there is certainly an argument to be made for giving the North its chance. They only have to look at what the BBC has achieved in Manchester, or what a Channel 4 Hub could do in Liverpool, to understand the benefits of diversifying their locations. The Liverpool Film Office, for example, has just enjoyed its busiest year ever, and is set to enjoy an even bigger one this time around.
With such enviable precedents already set, the question remains, why hasn’t this happened already in publishing?
Northern writer Joanne Harris, who is Barnsley-born and has been published in more than 50 countries, believes there was ‘a systematic leeching of resources by the current government from the provinces in general…Arts cuts, library closures, museum and theatre closures, etc., all based on the idea that only London matters."
It may well take a powerhouse to overcome such odds, but with equality of investment, I’m positive that northern publishers, writers and editors possess both the skills and capacity for innovation to do just that.