Conversations with small publishers: Brass Monkey Books
This week we interview three small presses about why they started their project, and what exciting projects they have in the works. Here, Kabita Dhara tells us about Brass Monkey Books.
What were your reasons for establishing Brass Monkey Books?
I had long been a bit frustrated that so many of the Indian books written in English that we get in the West either explore the migration story or are historical. There’s nothing wrong with this per se, but I was wondering why many contemporary stories about India were not making their way into Australian bookshops. Then in 2009/2010 I went to India on an Asialink Arts Management Residency. It was around the time that a number of Indian students in Melbourne had been assaulted. Just about everyone I met in India wanted to talk about it, and it struck me how much misinformation was making its way to the Indian people. These two very separate moments led me to the belief that the relationship between Australia and India was largely based on outdated stereotypes. I’m a great believer in the power of literature to bridge divides and foster understanding. Having lived most of my life in Australia, I felt I was better placed to address the issue of Indian stereotypes in Australia than vice versa. To this end, Brass Monkey Books was established to publish stories about contemporary India. I also publish fiction and non-fiction about India by Australians as I think this offers another fascinating perspective.
What has been most challenging, and most rewarding, since you’ve made this decision?
Most rewarding: Every time the new books arrive from the printer; when my authors are happy with their books; when my authors participate in writers’ festivals and the audience engages meaningfully with them; when other authors tell me they loved my authors’ books. The most rewarding thing for me has been to see the enthusiastic responses to the books I have published.
Most challenging: While the book trade is mostly very collegial and supportive, it is still a business. Finding a balance between the passion and the realities of a commercial enterprise can sometimes be a challenge but is essential. My biggest challenge recently is moving into self-distribution, which I’ve started to do this year. My experience in the book trade, apart from bookselling, has been mostly in editorial and production so the distribution side of things is a new challenge.
Tell us about some upcoming releases for readers to look out for.
Brass Monkey Books has two new releases in April. Difficult Pleasures is a collection of short stories by Anjum Hasan. I published Hasan’s two novels (Lunatic in My Head, Big Girl Now) in 2010, and they were very well received. Hasan also came to the Melbourne and Brisbane writers’ festivals in 2010 and the audiences loved her! The stories in Difficult Pleasures explore modern Indian life in India and abroad, and the Indian edition (which came out in 2012) was much lauded. I love Hasan’s writing and am so happy to be publishing this book.
The second new release is Only Connect: Short Fiction about Technology from Australia and India. It is edited by Sharon Rundle and Meenakshi Bharat, who also previously put together the anthologies Alien Shores (Brass Monkey Books) and Fear Factor (Picador). The stories in Only Connect explore the effect of technology on lives in both countries, and how both countries and their people have changed because of it. It’s a great topic to explore, especially since this whole anthology has relied on various technologies to bring together the editors and writers who are based in Australia and India. (Both the editors had their laptops crash in the course of putting the book together but thankfully they didn’t see it as a bad omen!) I am very proud to publish this collaboration between Indian and Australian authors.