While our print project is on hold, we’re launching the online series PRESS ON! to highlight exciting woman-authored publications and celebrate the publishers risking it all to challenge the status quo in the books industry.
Rosemarie Hudson founded HopeRoad Publishing with a mission to publish works from Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean in the UK. She talks to Plume about what it’s like to run a publishing house during a pandemic and why she chose to republish the out-of-print 1972 novel The Nowhere Man by Kamala Markayanda, which Bernadine Evaristo labeled “worryingly topical in our unsettled times” in a review last year.
What led you to found HopeRoad Publishing when you did back in 2010?
I entered publishing to show white people that Black people are much, much more than what they give us credit for, [that is], being talented in the fields of show business and sports. In the nineties, I published the first novel by Alex Wheatle MBE, the hugely important Brixton Rock. This was followed by One Bright Child by Patricia Cumper, a beautiful and nostalgic account of her mother’s time at Cambridge University after the Second World War. With very little change happening within the mainstream British publishing industry, I felt I had to continue publishing for change and recognition: hence, the birth of HopeRoad.
How would you describe “the ethos” of HopeRoad Publishing, in a nutshell?
I wish HopeRoad’s to continue to educate, by publishing books from and about writers and writing from Africa, Asia, and The Caribbean.
The big [publishing] houses tend to dominate [bookshops] and yet we smaller publishers are often so much more interesting!
What is it like to be running a publishing house in London today compared to when you started ten years ago?
It is just as difficult today and as exciting as when I first started. What gets me up in the mornings is the hope I will find a new author telling a different story. I am all about “making the change”. When it comes to getting the word out, one is influenced by the support, or lack of it, from the bookshops — especially the big chains. This also applies to reviews in print and attention in the broadcast media. The big [publishing] houses tend to dominate this space and yet we smaller publishers are often so much more interesting! I have, of course, at times enjoyed that support.
2020 has brought a vacuum of book events and halted foot traffic to bookstores. Has your sales model changed as a result of the COVID crisis?
COVID came in very early springtime when we had so much hope of great things happing with the new titles. Everything that was planned ground to an abrupt halt, as it did for everyone, and new thinking came into play. The indie bookshops have been brilliant, especially in Ireland where they have been selling The Tainted by Cauvery Madhavan from their websites since April when the books was published.
What little emergency funding there was, was quickly snapped up by the lucky few indie presses. We are relying heavily on our readers to support us by buying from our website and talking about us on their social media pages. We are ran a 25% discount on all our print and e-books until end of July 2020, [and now] we will run a crime and YA sale.
“It is great that this lost gem has been rediscovered, and at a time when Markandaya’s acute delineation of displacement, alienation, and the scapegoating of immigrants is so pertinent once again. Perhaps for a decade or two, the novel might have seemed ‘dated’ to many, falsely believing that we inhabit a ‘post-racial’ world.
It is, in fact, a novel that will endure not only because of the depth of understanding it brings about the immigrant experience, but also because Markandaya has, in Srinivanas, created a remarkable, indelible character.”
— Author Monica Ali on The Nowhere Man
The HopeRoad book we are spotlighting is The Nowhere Man by Kamala Markandaya, published in 2019 to launch the Small Axes series. Bernadine Evaristo praised the book in a Guardian review last year as a future “feminist classic”. Although it was first published in 1972, Evaristo called it “worryingly topical in our unsettled times with hate crimes on the rise and anti-foreign sentiment stoked by the Brexit agenda”. What do you think contemporary readers might get out of it?
It is possible for a new black or Asian voice to get published nowadays. [But it is] much more difficult for a black or Asian writer who has had their moment of fame, and is now forgotten, to be republished and rediscovered. Like her contemporary Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Kamala Markandaya was well-known and feted in literary London in the 1960s and 1970s. Her best-known work, Nectar in a Sieve, was a best-seller in the USA.
When we decided to republish her work, we wanted to start with, The Nowhere Man, the only book she wrote that was about the UK. Set in the South London that Markandaya lived in from the time of her arrival in the UK in 1948, it clearly contains autobiographical elements. As in all of Markandaya’s novels there is great empathy with the characters – of whatever race – but there is also a strong sense of place and the difficulties immigrants face in being accepted by the indigenous people.
Srinivas, the lead character in the book, has lived for 30 years in London; he has lost a son to England’s war, but is still heckled by local racists and told to ‘go back to your country’. For him, England is his country but too many of his neighbours see him as an alien who belongs elsewhere.
Do you have a favourite short excerpt, quote or section to share with us?
This short section takes places soon after the English woman, Mrs Pickering, moves into Srinivas’s house and Laxman, Srinivas’s son, is paying them a visit and showing a photograph of his new son:
‘Foreigners are foreigners. How can anyone be foreign who is born in this country?’ said Mrs Pickering, as if she were propounding a riddle.
‘When their skin is a different colour,’ said Laxman.
‘Ah, well,’ said Srinivas tolerantly. ‘The British are a reserved people.’
Mrs Pickering’s view amazed him still more. ‘It would be a dull world,’ she said quite straightly, her colourless eyes unwavering, ‘very dull indeed, if we all had pale skins and pale eyes.’
— from The Nowhere Man by Kamala Markayanda (HopeRoad Publishing, 2019)
The Nowhere Man was first published in the early 1970s. Have things changed that much? Not as much as we would like to think. In the words of Monica Ali:
“It is great that this lost gem has been rediscovered, and at a time when Markandaya’s acute delineation of displacement, alienation, and the scapegoating of immigrants is so pertinent once again. Perhaps for a decade or two, the novel might have seemed ‘dated’ to many, falsely believing that we inhabit a ‘post-racial’ world. It is, in fact, a novel that will endure not only because of the depth of understanding it brings about the immigrant experience, but also because Markandaya has, in Srinivanas, created a remarkable, indelible character.”
What’s next for HopeRoad?
Many of our titles have been put back from this spring to autumn 2020. Among our 2021 titles is one which was due to be released in the summer of this year. A Long Way From Douala, by an exciting Cameroon-Swiss author, Max Lobe, is a fabulous classic road-trip novel.
In October, we will publish Ferdinand Dennis’ Duppy Conqueror, first published in 1998 and at the time, hailed by Maya Jaggi in the Guardian as “A landmark in British fiction in capturing a breadth of diasporic experience and a moment in empire”. Like The Nowhere Man, it also is ready for rediscovery and critical acclaim.
The excellent response to our republication of The Nowhere Man is very encouraging. It confirms our belief that there are many more out-of-print, post-colonial gems waiting to be rediscovered, as well as all those new writers waiting to tell [their own] unique stories to a waiting world.
Rosemarie Hudson founded HopeRoad Publishing in 2010 and continues to direct the publishing house today. A book-lover who has always wanted to encourage exciting new talent, her emphasis has been to promote the best writing from Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean, with themes of identity, cultural stereotyping, and disability of particular interest. She has a record of choosing prize-winning writers for the HopeRoad list by only publishing work she cares for passionately.