Good morning, everyone, and happy Hogmanay! The turning of the year always seems to be a time for drawing lines, and making plans, and this morning I found myself thinking about the strange turns my life has taken to land me here, in the middle of Scotland, creating patterns and making books. Almost 6 years ago, my stroke meant I could no longer work as an academic. A few weeks before it happened, I had created a pattern for a sweater which, as they say, went viral. Putting this pattern on sale opened up another path for me, allowing me to think of alternative options as I recovered. So you could say I started designing because I had to, because I had to find another way of supporting myself financially. But my “new” life began from another place of necessity too: I have found that I always have to be making something, whether its a cardigan, a piece of research, a skirt, an essay, a poem, a book. I have discovered that I just thrive on making stuff – and perhaps thats one of the many reasons why I enjoy what I do now much more than I did academic teaching.
A few weeks ago, we arranged new reprintings of the first two books I made and published independently: Yokes is now in its third edition and Colours of Shetland is going into its fourth. With the Buachaille book published last month, and further titles in the planning stages, I feel so incredibly grateful that the wonderful world of knitting has enabled me to rebuild my life in this interesting way as a writer, designer, and independent publisher, and am not a little proud of the books themselves. Back in 2011-12 when I was beginning to make this my business, money was very tight, I was still ill, and still recovering, and I was also very cautious. I saved what I could, and planned to create a book independently, if that was at all possible. But publishing a book is an expensive business if you want to do it well, and when we attended Woolfest in 2012, it was with the idea that these sales might help enable me to finance publication. I designed some kits which sold like proverbial hot cakes, and Colours of Shetland was basically created with the money we made that year at Woolfest. I have continued in this manner, carefully reinvesting back into my business, and have never sought any external finance or support. Crowdfunding and pre-orders have their place, of course, and without such mechanisms many important things created by independent producers would never find their way to market. Nonetheless I feel proud that, from a rather odd starting point (being left disabled by a stroke with 6 months sick pay) I’ve been able to make patterns, books, and now yarn, completely independently, with careful reinvestment, economic caution, and, of course, the continued support of the knitting world.
A few weeks ago I was approached by a mainstream publisher who wanted me to put together a proposal for a book of essays about knitting. I receive quite a few publishing proposals, but this was the first which has really interested and (if I am honest) rather flattered me. I have been going back and forth musing on the proposal, and my thoughts about the proposal, for quite some time. Under that imprint and editorial team, the book would be produced to a really high standard, and its reach would be incredibly wide. My words would reach a different commercial audience, and a big audience, is, I suppose what many writers crave. Much of the stress-y bits involved in making and publishing a book would be removed (thinking about the nitty gritty of paper stock, production and quality issues, storage and distribution issues) and the weight of editorial decision making would be taken away. This all seemed quite attractive.
But then, the more I thought about it, the more I realised that I really rather like being involved with the nitty gritty of publishing – production issues can sometimes be pressurising and more than a little frustrating (believe me), but they are also part of the process of making the thing. And I suppose, in all respects, I like to feel as close as I can to the making-of-the-thing. I also really enjoy working with my own editorial and production team (in whom I have absolute confidence) and making decisions (after taking advice) has never been hard for me. Then I considered that what made the mainstream publisher’s proposal attractive to me was simply hubris – the thought that more people would get to read what I wrote. And finally, I reflected on the fact that what I really liked about where I was was right now was its independence — I had built and made a (modest) success of my (very small) publishing operation completely independently — always taking advice from the people I liked and trusted.
So, finding myself here at the start of the new year in something of a quandary, I would like to ask the people I like and trust – that’s you – for your advice. I am erring towards not pursuing the proposal of the mainstream publisher — am I being short sighted and foolish? Is my attachment to my own independence simply another form of hubris that’s blinding me to how good it would be to create and publish something commercially? And whatever form it takes, would you like to see a (critical and historical) book of essays about knitting from me? What kinds of things would you really like to see me write about? What type of book(s) would you like me to produce?
In any case, I do intend to write more, and make more books, in 2016. I have my own ideas, of course, but any of your thoughts about what shape you’d like my work to take would be most welcome.