As small publishers throughout Britain feel the squeeze, Frances Cornford assesses the rejuvenation ofthe Edinburgh-based Polygon.
In a business which is becoming increasingly conservative, dominated by accountants chasing after that elusive bestseller. it comes
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as a pleasant shock to find a publisher maintaining an innovative literary tradition. Luckily there are some who buck the trend, and one of these is Polygon.
Situated between Edinburgh University’s Fine Art department and its Catholic Chaplaincy and above the more staid Edinburgh University Press it seems an unlikely place for a literary powerhouse.
Polygon's links with the university date back to its origins in the 19705 as part of the Student's Association when it published pamphlets and books on Scottish politics. It went on to distinguish itselfby moving into fiction in the early 80s publishing James Kelman‘s first two books Not Not While the Giro and The Busconduetor Hines and Agnes
- Edwin Morgan - XU'I'IIINU NII'I' GIVING NII’ISSAUI’Jﬁ
Owens‘ Gentlemen of the West among the best known. By the mid 805 it had its own new fiction imprint but was being increasingly starved of funds by a Student‘s Association which seemingly preferred the more commercial attractions of pubs and travel agents to those of independent publishing. In 1988 it was taken under the wing of Edinburgh University Press.
From there Polygon has undergone a renaissance. Quadrupling output and revamping the new fiction series with a stylish new design which sees a staggering sixteen original novels into print this year. ‘We‘re in a very special time in Scotland,‘ says publisher Peter Kravitz explaining the emphasis on new fiction, ‘there
r are a number ofvery good books
which happen to be first novels. I‘m referring in particular to the second wave of Scottish writing which comes after James Kelman, Liz Lochhead and Alasdair Gray and which began publishing in the late 80s. The people I‘m talking about in our list are Gordon Legge, Joseph Mills, Janice Galloway and in England Stuart Holmes and Harold Tate.‘
Concentrating on new fiction, he says is also a response to the need of small publishers to specialise to survive. ‘Thc future ofthe small general publisher is very bleak so we’ve been trying to make a big thing out of publishing new fiction at a time many large publishers in London are concentrating on giving huge advances to people who may already have published two or three novels.‘
Despite Polygon‘s standing among other publishers, it‘s a different matter entirely selling first novels to those booksellers who only allow their branch managers to choose new titles from a list approved at central office. Attracting the attention of the self-congratulatory Sunday
newspapers is also an uphill struggle.
What keeps Kravitz going is the conviction that there is an audience out there for adventurous new fiction which recognises, unlike most novels published at the moment, that
we are living in the late 20th century.
Failing an ideal world with a bookshop on every corner, Kravitz envisages a cartel of independent publishers like Polygon, Serpent’s Tail and 4th Estate who would deal with independent bookshops —- a sort of literary Chain with No Name.
The priority, however, is producing new work. ‘What we look to do is to get a book into print even ifwe‘re not publishing that many— we may print no more than 1500 copies and reprint immediately if it begins to sell — profit margins are very slim.‘ So don‘t expect any blockbusters — Polygon are more interested in expanding your mind than their bank balance. Forthcoming titles come from Hungary, Italy, Spain and Russia as well as Scotland and include a translation ofthe inﬂuential Italian Claudio Magris‘ second novel In ferences from a Sabre and Edwin Morgan‘s collection of diaries and reflections Nothing Not Giving Messages.
Judging by past experience today’s Polygon release may well be tomorrows essential reading though Kravitz is content to see his stars rise
.without him.‘I'm quite happy to see Polygon as a launchpad. You could say that our job is somewhere between that of a large publisher and a literary agent — nurturing the writer and getting them into print. lfthey want to go offafter that its fair enough as we can‘t afford to pay them large advances. Besides if authors didn‘t go elsewhere we wouldn‘t really have room on our list for new writers. . .‘ (Frances Cornford)
“The List 1-14June 1990