Stephanie Tillotson Talks To Bookbag About Honno Publishing's 25th Birthday

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Stephanie Tillotson Talks To Bookbag About Honno Publishing's 25th Birthday


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Summary: Honno is twenty five years old this year. Isn't that something? we thought so and we asked Stephanie Tillotson (with a little help from her friend Penny Thomas) to come in and chat to us about it.
Date: 12 May 2012

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External links: Author's website


Hats off to Honno! Twenty-five years old and still growing. We can't quite believe it, but we are very proud to say we've been publishing women's writing from Wales for a quarter century! Worth a bit of a party, don't you think?

How does Honno feel at twenty-five? Well, not bad actually, in fact, hale and hearty. Which isn't half bad, especially when you consider just how little cash there is available and just how much voluntary commitment it takes to publish over a hundred different titles: but that's exactly what we have achieved in the past quarter century. It helps that Honno has managed to put together a team of really good writers and members of staff who all work fit to bust, and that together they have attracted a dedicated following of readers, whose number is increasing every day.

Honno has come a very long way since 1986 when a group of friends met in a flat in Cardiff, over a kitchen table and a cup of tea. Their motivation - to promote women's writing from Wales; their commitment, to continue meeting once a month, their aim, to publish one title every year, one in English, one in Welsh. They weren't going to let small considerations like the lack of an office, equipment, or indeed cash, deter them! Then someone had a brilliant idea, an idea that has become popular twenty-five years later and which is now called 'crowd funding.' Back then, no one had heard of crowd funding but that didn't stop the Honno women writing to everyone they knew and asking them to donate to the new venture. What more proof was needed that a dedicated women's publishing house was needed in Wales than the 250 women who paid £5 a share into Honno. Within twelve months £4,000 had been raised.

Looking back, Honno's successes during those first few years were unbelievable. In 1988 we won the annual Pandora Women in Publishing Award for the most impressive new women's venture. The following year On my life: Women's Writing from Wales won the Raymond Williams Community Publishing Award, and the same award again in 1995 with our first collection of short stories Luminous and Forlorn. In 1989 came the first best-seller, Morphine and Dolly Mixtures, by Carol-Ann Courtney; we took a risk, printed 6,000 copies, stacked them high in a friend's house and waited. Morphine and Dolly Mixtures became a film by Karl Francis, won the Arts Council of Wales Book of the Year Award in 1990 and was one of the top 20 women's titles for that year. When Penguin bought the paperback rights we knew we had arrived.

Twenty-five years later and those first women's hopes and dreams have been more than realized. Now funded, Honno has continued to grow, continued to win prizes and awards. None of this would be possible without our writers and readers and we are extremely proud knowing that, along the way, Honno has given the women of Wales a chance to find their individual voices, to tell their own stories and to be heard.

Funny, but in a way we wish we didn't need to exist any longer. How is it that in 2012 there is still a desire for an independent women's publisher? Should we really be celebrating the fact that in 1986 women felt so under-represented that they put such effort into creating a dedicated space where their experiences could be put on the page? Or that now, in 2012, there is still a need for Honno to continue? Wouldn't our greatest achievement have been to contribute to a culture in which Honno was no longer required? Yet, here we are, still - which must say something.

In the last twenty-five years we have taken on more and more. Last year we ventured into e-books, published three titles in our classics series and seven new books never seen in print before. We ran workshops on all kinds of writing – from 'Crime' to 'Writing for Children'. We organized sessions in which writers could come and meet experienced editors. We talked to academics about voices that, through neglect, had fallen out of print, making sure their words are heard again. We published biographies of the lives of some amazing women from the past, sharing their experiences with a new generation. There is so much to commemorate. And what better way than by doing what we do best – publishing ever more books by women in Wales!

May 2012 sees the publication of a brand new anthology that will celebrate our past quarter century. All Shall Be Well: twenty-five at twenty-five is a collection of short stories, articles and biographical pieces that have been published by Honno during the last twenty-five years. When the idea of an anthology was first suggested you can imagine the heady rush of excitement - twenty-five pieces to represent and celebrate Honno's work since 1986. Then reality set it: how on earth were we going to choose? How could we hope to 'represent' such a vast output, such a variety of work? We had published beautiful poetry; many full length novels, biographies; autobiographies; fiction from the classics to the contemporary – and in English and Welsh too!

Eventually we decided to concentrate upon the twenty-eight or so anthologies, both fiction and non-fiction, published in the period between 1987 and 2012. The idea of these anthologies was always to give women the first opportunity to see their work in print. Some included authors who never submitted again – others have rich and rewarding volumes to their names. Faced with a wealth of work from which to select, we knew we could never really do our writers complete justice – there is just too much good work out there. It's a very subjective selection, purely and simply our choice and one we are extremely proud to present. All Shall Be Well is just the tip of an amazing iceberg. Something this anthology did give us though – a chance to look back and acknowledge that the past twenty-five years have been an astonishing time for women's writing in Wales. And that surely deserves a celebration.

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