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An independent publisher in the West Midlands Region has once again proved how to spot a good story by writing its own tale of success, earning its third Man Booker Prize longlisting in six years.

Gaynor Arnold’s debut novel ‘Girl in a Blue Dress’ has become the second successive novel published by Tindal Street Press in Birmingham to achieve this major literary accolade.

Arnold is a social worker for Birmingham’s Adoption and Fostering Service, whose book is a fictionalised account of Charles Dickens’ troubled marriage. It is about novelist Alfred Gibson, seen through the eyes of his estranged wife, Dorothea.

Tindal Street was already on the crest of a wave with ‘What Was Lost’, the debut novel from Catherine O’Flynn, which this summer became the first book in the publisher’s ten year history to be re-jacketed following sales of more than 40,000.

O’Flynn’s novel was also longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, as well as winning the Costa First Book Award, being shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the South Bank Show Literature Award, and longlisted for the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction.

However, in the highly competitive literary world this expanding publishing house is not taking anything for granted, even with these two significant successes and the experience of a strong track record built up over the 40 books in its portfolio.

“We are only ever as good as our next book,” admits publishing director Alan Mahar. “However, we have a good success rate in our mission to export talent from the West Midlands Region across the country. We are not just producing Birmingham books for Birmingham people.

“What we do springs from a belief that there is talent in the Region and when we come across a book we believe in we feel it should be promoted nationally. We are proud of where we are from and what we do, which is definitely a virtue.

“Most of our writers have been turned down by mainstream publishers, but we take a chance with them based on our own editorial acumen and intuition. We focus on socially critical fiction, with a particular interest in urban, hard-hitting stories but literary quality is always paramount.

“Tindal Street provides opportunities for new writers, so it is a huge challenge to generate interest in titles by unknown regional authors. But talent which may be overlooked elsewhere can compete with the best books out there, as long as it’s presented in a professional and expert manner.”

The company was founded in 1998. It grew from the publishing ambitions of a number of writers in the Tindal Street Fiction Group, which still meets fortnightly in Moseley, Birmingham.

Still the only independent publisher specialising in fiction in the West Midlands Region, Tindal Street has led the way in its field by achieving national success ahead of its competitors outside London.

The company has an impressive record of eleven of its 41 titles so far being listed for national literary awards, and its selections generally fare well with reviewers.

Being selective is increasingly crucial, as Tindal Street has in some ways become a victim of its own success. The publisher’s office in Birmingham’s artisan Custard Factory is flooded with more than 100 manuscripts a month which are narrowed down to a shortlist of 12 per year. But only six of those will actually be published.

As the past ten years have shown, those which do make the grade have a strong chance of making it from that small West Midlands office onto a national stage.

Its first book to hit the big time was ‘Astonishing Splashes of Colour’ by Clare Morrall in 2003, which was Tindal Street’s thirteenth book and proved to be anything but unlucky.

Alan added: “When we started with Alan Beard’s book ‘Taking Doreen out of the Sky’ in 1998 it was well received and set up a model, showing us that what we were doing could work.

“But things really took off in 2003 when ‘Astonishing Splashes of Colour’ was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and sold 80,000 copies in all, with the rights sold in 15 countries.

“People come to us because they want the same experience as Morrall and O’Flynn. Both books have made people sit up and take notice because they were unusually successful for a regional publisher.”

The business received Arts Council funding in 2001, which was granted to discover literary fiction writers outside London who are not being accepted by commercial publishers. Tindal Street Press is still a regularly funded organisation because of its service to new writers.

Of the founding management team, Alan Mahar (publishing director), Penny Rendall (now a non-executive director) and Emma Hargrave (publisher, and for several years the only full time member of staff) are all still on board. Having joined as an assistant in 2002, Luke Brown is now enjoying his role as editor and publicist.

Alan added: “We have become a high performing, small independent outfit with the ambition to become increasingly profitable and create a more sustainable business without the need for public funding.

“In the future we are hoping to publish a higher number of books which become more commercial and profitable while maintaining our core literary values and range of titles.”


For further information or to arrange an interview with Tindal Street Press please contact Oliver Du Croz or Nick Trueman at Seal Communications on 0121 200 0780, or email

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