In March this year, two young women from Bradford launched an independent press with the aim of shaking things up in the publishing world.
Habiba Desai and Sara Razzaq co-founded Fox & Windmill with a clear goal in mind – to bridge the diversity gap within the publishing industry by celebrating and promoting British South Asian writers in the North of England.
“It is the culmination of about five years of conversations, between the two of us,” says Desai. “We could see there were not many publishers in the North, and not nearly enough that represent us, so we wanted to fill that gap.”
The conversation began when Desai and Razzaq met as volunteers at Bradford Literature Festival a few years ago and discovered they were both students at Huddersfield University – Desai was studying English Literature and Creative Writing while Razzaq was studying English Literature.
“We got talking about the lack of diversity that we found in the type of novels we were interested in reading – such as fantasy, science fiction and literary fiction,” says Razzaq. “We have been talking about it ever since.”
With the support of Hebden Bridge-based Bluemoose Books – co-founder and director Kevin Duffy has been a mentor – Fox & Windmill announced on Twitter in July that they were seeking submissions of full manuscripts of novels and also launching a competition for poems and short stories to be published in an anthology alongside established writers. The response so far has been phenomenal. In fact, it has been so positive they have decided to cast their net a bit wider.
“It has been amazing,” says Desai. “We were getting messages from authors and agents from all over the country asking us if we could open our doors a little more. They said there is a lot of talent out there that is not being recognised, so we thought that while we are still new and getting a lot of attention, we would open it up to British South Asian writers from outside the North as well. We have had a lot of submissions.”
While Desai looks after partnerships, Razzaq handles submissions and she has been impressed by the quality of those they have received.
“It has been a bit of a whirlwind,” she says. “And it’s been so great to see the really interesting manuscripts coming through in various genres. We want to focus particularly on literary fiction and young adult fiction because those were the areas where we found there was a real lack of diversity. We want to share those stories, and move away from the usual tropes associated with South Asian literature.”
In addition to providing a platform for new voices, Fox & Windmill are committed to developing and nurturing writers. “We have joined with Bradford libraries and will be hosting a series of workshops,” says Desai.
Razzaq adds: “We would like to be a hub for people to come and have a chat, get advice and ask any questions they might have.”
Habiba Desai and Sara Razzaq of Fox & Windmill will appear with Kevin and Hetha Duffy of Bluemoose Books at Halifax Festival of Words on October 22. halifaxfestivalofwords.com
The name of the company was inspired by a walk that Desai took in Haworth near the Brontë Parsonage Museum.
She explains in one of the episodes of the Fox & Windmill podcast that was also launched over the summer how on her walk she saw a weathervane with the figure of a fox on it.
The striking image, the literary connection of the location and their shared love of the Brontës meant that it felt right as the name for the new press. “It kind of clicked,” says Desai. “And we stuck with it.” Both avid readers from a young age, Desai and Razzaq were drawn to the classics of English literature, particularly the Brontës and Jane Austen.
“My favourite novel is Pride and Prejudice,” says Razzaq. “I have got countless copies and have read it and re-read it many times – and I love the film versions too.” Desai’s favourite is also an Austen. “Although it is not on the same hype level as Pride and Prejudice,” she says. “Mine is Persuasion – it was the first Jane Austen novel I read and I really loved it.” In the podcast series Desai and Razzaq speak to authors, publishers and booksellers discussing their passion for books and reading – another of their longer term plans is to work with different community groups sharing stories and to set up a reading group.
Fox & Windmill are accepting submissions and entries to their competition until October 30. For details visit the website www.foxandwindmill.co.uk
The Fox & Windmill Podcast can be found at https://anchor.fm/foxandwindmill