The Calder Wood Press story
Back in the mid-1990s I was a member of Edinburgh’s School of Poets. We met in the Scottish Poetry Library to read and critique each others’ work, and I know my own writing improved as a result. The group used to publish a few poetry cards every year, but when I joined, the scheme was in abeyance, as the person who had the desk-top publishing software was no longer active.
So I offered to help out, and in the next couple of years I published half a dozen or so cards under the School of Poets imprint. The technology wasn’t difficult to master, and I enjoyed designing the cards. And then the thought occurred to me to print some of my own poems as poetry cards, so I had a go and got four cards ready to go to the printers. I thought I should probably set up a proper business to do it, but what to call it? Well at that time (1997) I was living in Mid Calder, West Lothian, in a housing estate which backed on to the Calder Wood Country Park. The woods were a favourite place for a young family, and we explored the Park, discovering old shale mining working on the far side, and getting to know the plants and animals which lived there. Calder Wood Press seemed a good name for a publisher, so that’s what it became. I got a block of 100 ISBN numbers from the agency, and I produced my first four poetry cards – The Flowers of Scotland, Roundabout Livingston, Painted Fruits and Landings.
It was fun to do them, but not long after that our lives changed. We moved to Dunbar at the end of 2000, I had a difficult time in my last two years at work, and I had by then left the School of Poets. However, after I retired in 2002, I made contact with some local writers in Dunbar, I started the Dunbar Writers group with Donald McKinney and Jo Gibson, and I got involved with the umbrella group Tyne & Esk Writers. That expanded the range and variety of authors in my contact list and, I got interested in publishing a few of them in pamphlet form, developing my skills in editing, design, and preparing texts for publication.
So I became a publisher almost by accident. As I said in a recent interview in The Eildon Tree, I’m a poet who also publishes; I’m not a publisher who also writes poetry.
I had decided I didn’t want to have a ‘house style’, so each pamphlet was different, with typography I felt best suited individual texts, and each with a distinctive colour-printed cover. That’s still my philosophy. I’ve published a couple of longer works, mainly short story collections, but poetry forms the bulk of my output.
I started by publishing the work of some friends who, I felt, deserved public recognition through having their pamphlets published. I’ve enjoyed doing things this way, and by and large it has worked well. On the down side, I’ve sometimes been overly optimistic about the sales potential of some of my friends. Sometimes I’ve let my heart rule my head, and it’s sometimes turned out expensive. In 2011, for instance, I had a cumulative loss of over £2000. I’ve slowly driven it down, so that the 2011 losses are now below £1000. But that’s still a lot to carry, considering that it’s my pension which subsidises my publishing.
I never read unsolicited manuscripts, and I never respond to email messages from strangers offering me the chance to publish them. How it works is that I see the poetry of someone I know, in social media, e-zines or printed magazines. The poets I publish have to have a track record of being published in magazines. And I have to have heard them read their poems in public, because this is a shoestring operation, and each author has to make an effort to help sell their own work through public readings, or it just doesn’t work.
That’s what I’ve been doing then. In Part 2 I’ll take a more detailed look at the output from Calder Wood Press, but for now, as I approach the end of 2015, I’m very proud to have published 60 titles.