How does an imprint get born? In the case of Bloomsbury Circus it was quickly and in the middle of the night. For months we had been discussing how we could extend our fiction programme without endangering any of our books. Publishing fiction is so hard. Each book has to be nurtured and loved and lavished with attention; each needs oxygen. If you publish too many titles, those that are quieter can be overshadowed. Our company is now twenty-five years old and our list is filled with established names such as Nadine Gordimer, Richard Ford, Margaret Atwood, Donna Tartt, Justin Cartwright, William Boyd, Anne Michaels and Howard Jacobson. But there are also wonderful authors who have been published for some years, who get well reviewed but who haven’t (yet) had the big break, authors we believe in, but who could do with a fresh impetus and energy. And of course discovering new talent is our life blood. Publishing, say, Jon McGregor’s first novel a few years ago, and taking on Stephen Kelman’s Pigeon English which went on to be shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize: these are the things that keep you humming and alive.
But back to the middle of the night. A thought came to me in one of those brain-whirling awake moments: a new imprint! This would give us space to find new writers and grow those existing authors we feel need special attention. From that middle-of-the-night thought it all happened with speed. First we needed a name. We thought of places, like Bedford Square where we now reside, or the Flatiron building where our US offices are. Someone suggested Bloomsbury Square. Richard Charkin, our Executive Director, said what about Bloomsbury Circus? In that instant my mind was filled with images of the big top, of trapeze artists and jugglers (my stepdaughter Nell Gifford has her very own circus and so that life is part of my life), and I loved the feeling of risk, of colour and beauty. Our Art Director David Mann dreamt up a new logo – our goddess Diana dangling from a moon-shaped trapeze – and a new package. We wanted the books to be trade paperbacks, but as gorgeous as a trade paperback can possibly be. He presented us with a new format, a squarish shape, with photographic covers with deep flaps and colour printing inside and out. It was perfect: fresh, vital, original.
What should our launch title be? By some wonderful chance of synchronicity we were to publish a novel called The Trapeze Artist by Betty Trask winner Will Davis. And wonder of wonders, the author is himself a trapeze artist. That had to be our very first title. And with that settled Helen Garnons-Williams, our Editorial Director of Fiction, and I began the job of juggling our books. Much is done by instinct, but what we know is that Bloomsbury Circus books will be unapologetically literary, often experimental and utterly international. The imprint will be home to some established writers who we feel should be better known and celebrated, such as Emily Perkins, Liz Jensen, Lucy Ellmann and Patrick McGrath. But there will be many debuts too: no fewer than four in the list’s first autumn. Our first three titles will be The Trapeze Artist on 10th May, a tale of circus life and gay love, The Forrests by Emily Perkins, which chronicles a life from cradle to grave, on 24th May, and Liz Jensen’s dystopia of a world of violent children, The Uninvited, on 5th July.
So in these days when the high street is suffering, when no one quite knows what the digital future holds, when publishers are cutting their lists, we have decided to be recklessly counterintuitive. We will be publishing more, not less, fiction; we will search out vibrant new voices, we will lavish care on making the books more beautiful than ever before, creating collectible, cherishable objects. When Helen and I presented Bloomsbury Circus to colleagues from all departments, our Head of Marketing exclaimed, ‘Fiction Fights Back!’ This is our battle cry for the future of fiction.
Alexandra Pringle is Editor-in-Chief at Bloomsbury.