Today I’m delighted to welcome Lindsay Ashford, Chair of the Honno Committee, a successful novelist in her own right and a former editor for Honno.
Hello and welcome, Lindsay. First of all, many congratulations on Honno being on the short-list in the Katie Fforde Debut Romantic Novel category for the Romantic Novel Awards 2022. More on that in a moment but first, can you tell us about the inspiration behind the founding of Honno Welsh Women’s Press?
Honno was founded more than thirty years ago by a group of women around a kitchen table who saw what publishers like Virago were doing and felt there was nothing similar for women in Wales. The literary world in Wales then was very male: rugby and mining – that was what was written about. Women tended to be perceived as the ‘Mam’ working at home and doing very little else. So, the birth of Honno came out of a wish to tell different stories. It’s a co-operative, funded initially by four hundred women buying shares at five pounds each. The company now receives financial support from the Books Council of Wales. The name was chosen to reflect the fact that we only publish books by women: Honno means ‘that one (feminine) who is elsewhere’ in Welsh.
What about your own involvement? Could you describe your route to becoming Chair of the Honno Committee?
Honno published my first book – and acted as a springboard for my writing career. I started off with a crime novel, which turned into a series of five books featuring a female forensic psychologist. I then moved into historical fiction and was picked up by American publisher Lake Union (my sixth book for them, ‘A Feather on the Water’, comes out in August 2022).
I will always be indebted to Honno for giving me the editorial help I so badly needed at the start – I honestly believe that without Honno my debut novel would never have seen the light of day. I wanted to give other women that same chance, so, five years ago, I joined the Honno committee and became chair in 2019.
This is the first time I’ve interviewed a publishing house managed by a voluntary committee. Could you tell us how that works?
The committee is made up of thirteen volunteer members who come from diverse backgrounds and experiences. Amongst them are authors, editors, academics and women who have worked in the book trade.
The committee sets the strategic direction of the press, guides the publishing programme and manages the staff. There are strengths and weaknesses to this structure. Lots of very small presses are one person’s passion project. The strength of having a committee of thirteen women means there are many different areas of expertise and interest. The downside is that we might not be so fast in decision-making.
I notice from your website that Honno has over the years published a wide range of genres, including non-fiction, biography, children’s books, travel, poetry—but you’ll not be surprised that I’d like to ask about ROMANCE! How important a genre is it for Honno?
Honno’s aim is to publish talented Welsh women and the stories they want to tell. We don’t have a ‘Honno type of book’ – we look for great writing across genres. We’re keen to show that Welsh women can have romances and that romance happens in Wales – but we don’t only publish stories set in Wales.
Could we move on to Love at Café Lompar, the debut novel short-listed in the awards. I believe you were the one who selected this manuscript from the submissions pile. What drew you to it?
I’m absolutely thrilled that a manuscript I picked out of the ‘slush pile’ has been shortlisted for such a prestigious award. It’s an amazing novel. I was hooked from the start, when widowed mum Grace discovers her husband had a secret family in Montenegro and her daughter Kat persuades her to go and find out the truth. Set mainly in a beach resort on the Adriatic coast, it’s the perfect escapist read for troubled times.
I see that double congratulations are in order for this novel, authored by Anna & Jacqui Burns—two authors! Is that unusual?
Yes! We were all so impressed that a mother-and-daughter team had managed to write a book together while living hundreds of miles apart during lockdown. And both voices are equally strong. [The photo shows Lindsay with the two authors at the RNA awards night on 7th March 2022]
Are all your titles published in both Welsh and English, or only in the language in which they’ve been written, or does it depend on the genre?
Most of our books are written in English. All of our titles are published in the language the author wants to write in. We don’t publish any one book in both languages.
Are your published books available as e-books as well as in print? And are they marketed solely in Wales or more widely?
All of our titles are published as print and e-books simultaneously. We’ve also just started producing audiobooks. We sell them everywhere we can!
I note that Honno has recently re-opened for submissions and will consider unsolicited work. Could you explain the criteria for being eligible to submit to Honno and also tell us what in particular you are currently seeking?
The writers we publish must be women who were born in Wales, brought up in Wales, or living in Wales now, wherever they happen to have lived before. We’re looking for excellent fiction with strong female characters. We’re also keen to find new biographies about Welsh women. We will consider Memoir if the story is absolutely irresistible. We don’t tend to do children’s books or short story collections by a single author.
What do you like to read when not writing or dealing with Committee business? (if you have time!)
I always have about three or four books on the go at the same time: a mixture of fiction and non-fiction. I’m currently reading The Scarlet Dress by Louise Douglas and A Mother’s Lie by Leah Mercer. And I’ve just started Women Remembered: Jesus’ Female Disciples by Joan Taylor and Helen Bond.
Commiserations that you were pipped at the post for the debut award this year, but I believe Honno is no stranger to awards and accolades.
Indeed so. Over the past three decades Honno authors have won numerous awards and received many glowing accolades, such as this one from novelist Sarah Waters:
“Hooray for Honno! For a quarter of a century its classic and contemporary titles have been reminding us why Welsh women’s voices should be nurtured and celebrated, why Welsh women’s writing should be read and re-read. Wales, the UK, and the British literary scene would all be the poorer without Honno. I wish it every possible success as it heads into its next twenty-five years.”
Thank you for sparing the time to talk with us Lindsay. It’s been so interesting to learn more about Honno and we wish you continuing success in the future.
For more about Honno, see:
Lindsay was talking with Susan Leona Fisher (www.SLFisherAuthor.co.uk)