What makes the difference? The imagination and foresight of ‘a few remarkable people’

By Moira Forsyth

Before I was published I’d been writing for years. I might never have made it, and I certainly wouldn’t be an experienced editor and a director of a publishing company if it hadn’t been for the imagination and foresight of a few remarkable people. In the 1990s the Highlands had a number of local district councils, each with its own arts budget. In Ross & Cromarty, that money was spent on artists in residence – dancer, musician, artist, dramatist and – to my benefit – a writer. That was Brian McCabe, the third, after Thom Nairn and Aonghas Macneacail, to support creative  writing in the area.

New to the Highlands, unable to get a job, and writing my umpteenth unpublished novel in the mornings when the children had gone to school, I joined Dingwall Writers’ Group, which Brian chaired, in January 1994. It changed my life. For the first time I had constructive feedback on my work; the other writ-ers were first rate so I rapidly raised my own game – you had to, to keep up. Brian introduced to me to a literary agent, who didn’t take me on but her response was enough to motivate me to write yet another novel. I began publishing poems and short stories, was awarded a Scottish Arts Council writer’s bursary, spent a week at the recently opened Moniack Mhor  Writers’ Centre and then, at last, got an agent and a publishing contract with Hodder, for two books.

There was support in the area for publishing too: Tom Bryan, then Angus Dunn, edited Northwords magazine, providing a space for new and exciting poetry and fiction. When Angus decided to move on from editing the magazine, Robert Davidson took it over and produced a beautiful, innovative arts magazine. That was what prompted the idea of a literary publishing house, based in Highland: he went on to establish Sandstone Press. Having edited the fiction in Northwords, I developed those new skills at Sandstone. It’s been a long journey – but always an exciting one.

Sandstone Press celebrates its fifteenth anniversary this October, and we’ve recently been supported by Emergents, XpoNorth’s Writing and Publishing Network, to help us publish translations of the hugely successful German novels, Babylon Berlin and The Silent Death, to be broadcast as a major TV series this autumn by Sky Atlantic, in Germany, the UK, and across the world.

XpoNorth 2017: Writers’ Pitch to Publishers: 10am–4pm, Wednesday 7 June, Maclean Room, Eden Court, Inverness.

XpoNorth is helping writers too. For the second year running, this June, I’ll be on the panel for a Writers’ Pitch event, where authors are given a few minutes each to sell their work to publishers. Nerve-racking for them, but worth doing if they can bring them-selves to try! Later this year Sandstone Press will publish The Whisky Dictionary, as a direct result of the author’s pitch at XpoNorth in 2016.

Ross & Cromarty District Council changed many writers’ lives. North-words continues as Northwords Now, and Sandstone Press is thriving. Funding for the arts remains tiny in relation to funding for almost everything else but well placed and well directed, it can make a huge difference. The district councils have long gone, but we’re fortunate that Creative Scotland remains committed to writing and publishing, and in the Highlands we have XpoNorth and the Emergents Programme, which have the potential to make sure they continue to thrive in the Highlands.

Moira Forsyth is editorial director of Sandstone Press. Her fifth novel, A Message from the Other Side, will be published in July. Volker Kutscher’s novels, Babylon Berlin and The Silent Death can be viewed here. The Whisky Dictionary, by Iain Hector Ross will be published by Sandstone Press in October.