Indie (imprint) introductions: Serpent’s Tail

This is the fourth instalment of my Indie Introductions series, where I profile independent publishers (as opposed to the Big Four) whose work I love and want to shout about. If you want to delve into the series at length, my previous profiles can be found here.

Today, however, is going to be a little bit different. Serpent’s Tail is not an independent publisher in its own right, but rather an imprint of Profile Books, an indie founded in 1996 that publishes the likes of Mary Beard, Alan Bennett, and plenty of other well-known names besides. I had debated profiling Profile (sorry) overall, but Serpent’s Tail stands so well by itself that I thought it deserved an entry of its own. Maybe next time, Profile.

Serpent’s Tail: a brief introduction:

Serpent’s Tail started life a decade before its parent company, having been founded by Peter Ayrton back in 1986. They then joined forces with Profile Books in 2007. They publish a broad spectrum “of fiction and non-fiction that – from hard-boiled noir to gems in translation and left-field cultural reportage – often defines the meaning of ‘cool'” (source: The Independent). Writers on their list include winners of just about every major literary prize you might have heard of, including the Orange, Booker, and (in three instances, no less) the Nobel.

What they say:

Pete Ayrton founded Serpent’s Tail in 1986 in order to introduce British readers to risk-taking world literature no one else in the UK was publishing. The list quickly established a reputation for fearlessness, and for discovering an eclectic range of ground-breaking fiction and non-fiction, launching the careers of writers such as David Peace, Michel Houellebecq and Colm Tóibín and turning transgressive books such as Catherine Millet’s The Sexual Life of Catherine M and Lionel Shriver’s We Need To Talk About Kevin into bestsellers.

[…] After two decades of independence, in 2007 Serpent’s Tail joined Profile Books, also independent, where it continues as an imprint that celebrates originality. We publish books that we think matter, whether they are literary novels or crime fiction, works in translation or non-fiction books on contemporary culture and politics.

(Source: About Serpent’s Tail)

Books you might have heard about:

While Serpent’s Tail have published plenty of books you’ll recognise, perhaps its most well-known (and appropriately named) title is The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry, that sublime bestselling novel about Victorian science and curiosity which won the title of Waterstones Book of the Year in 2016.

Other titles that might have caught your eye recently include Chris Kraus’ charmingly named memoir I Love Dick, the Dylan-Thomas-Prize-shortlisted short story collection Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado, and The Accusation by Bandi, a North Korean writer whose short stories were smuggled out of the country in order to be published.

Books I’ve loved:

The first Serpent’s Tail book I came across was We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, a novel that caught my eye thanks to its enigmatic title and blurb, and broke my heart a little bit thanks to its utterly unexpected twist.

I’ve also, of course, read The Essex Serpent. I actually ordered the hardback from the Serpent’s Tail website when it was first published, and the cover was so beautiful that when I wasn’t reading it I kept it in its padded envelope to protect it – measures that raised the eye of more than one fellow commuter on the Tube. What can I say? It deserved to be looked after.

Books I’m looking forward to:

I’ve had my eye on Eat Up by Ruby Tandoh for some time now, and one of these days I am going to finally pick up a copy. A non-fiction book exploring the joy of eating in the face of negative food culture, it sounds right up my street. To give you a taste (sorry again) of what we’re talking about here, I’ve heard that Eat Up features, among other things, an ode to a Creme Egg.

On an utterly different note, special mention also goes to Washington Black by Esi Edugyan. Strictly speaking, her novel should be in the “Books I’ve loved section”, since I’ve already read it and thought it was marvellous. However, I had been looking forward to reading it for months, ever since I spotted it on the Serpent’s Tail catalogue, so I was over the moon to win a proof copy in a Twitter giveaway last month. And anyway, as it’s not out for another few months, Washington Black is not out of place in this section. If you’re looking for a book that blends a searing and nuanced critique of 19th Century American racism with genuinely thrilling adventures and contemporary scientific pursuits, you need to put Edugyan’s book on your TBR immediately.


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