A long time ago, almost back in the Dark Ages, I used to be a Book and Publishing student at Leiden University’s English Department. One of my main regrets about my time as a student, secondary to not finishing my Master’s thesis that is, is never having had the opportunity of following the course where the students published their own edition of a particular book due to scheduling issues. So when I was contacted by Ruth (N), one of Edinburgh Napier University’s Publishing master students about perhaps reviewing their project, David Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus, I immediately asked whether they’d also be up for an interview to see what I’d missed out on back in the day. The group kindly agreed and you can find their answers below. A Voyage to Arcturus is due to be published in May and I’m certainly looking forward to their interpretation and edition of the text.
Let’s start with the basics. Who are you? You are all students at Edinburgh Napier University. Which year are you currently in?
We are currently in our second trimester of our one-year Masters course. We each come from a variety of cultural and academic backgrounds, with a range of undergraduate degrees — from English Literature to Fashion Design. Our team is an amalgamation of nationalities including Italian, French, Canadian, and of course Scottish. Since graduating the first time some of us have spent our time traveling, or have already joined the world of work, and have returned to university for this industry tailored course to prepare us for the publishing landscape.
Last semester the work was more independently focused and each student researched and developed an individual proposal for the University Press, Merchiston Publishing. The winning proposal was A Voyage to Arcturus. We selected Scottish author, David Lindsay as he was not well recognised in his lifetime and deeply affected by his experience of World War I. As such, we are keen to highlight this novel as an original and inspiring Scottish sci-fi classic.
What was the process of creating this new edition like? Did you divide up roles, such as editor, managing editor, publicist etc. or were all of you doing everything?
We try to replicate the realities of a publishing house as close as possible, so we established a working hierarchy. Within the team we were each given the opportunity to put ourselves forward for the role of Project Manager. The team voted for this anonymously, and we have since been lead fantastically by Julia Brown and Ruth Grindley! We then followed the same process to select our heads of department for the teams: Editorial, Marketing, Finance, and Design and Production. Similarly to smaller publishing houses, we have quite a collaborative approach. We each work within two of these teams so we can become more involved in each aspect of the publication process.
What sort of editorial choices are you making? Are you making changes to the body of the original text, adding explanatory notes, or paratextual content? Are you working from the first published edition or have you actually started from the original manuscript or a later edition?
Quite significantly, the copyright for A Voyage to Arcturus only became available this year, so it is a really exiting opportunity for us to be creative with a text that has been neglected for so long. As such, our design team has done amazingly to introduce an older text to a contemporary audience. The cover is based on the Arcturus star, and its surrounding constellation. We’ve already released a sneak preview of our cover draft on Instagram and Twitter!
For the content itself, we initially pulled the body of the text from an online source, and drew from a Canongate and Positronic Publishing edition to stylistically interpret from. In terms of the more routine processes of republishing, the editorial team identified and corrected issues within the text, and collectively established, and applied, our own independent style guide. Whilst the editorial team got excited by the punctuation, the project managers sourced our paratextual materials. And we are proud to say that we have contributions by the writer Alan Moore, and the Scottish sci-fi writer Gary Gibson.
A Voyage to Arcturus was notoriously unsuccessful after its initial publication, selling less than six hundred copies. His subsequent 5 novels, including The Haunted Woman, were also unknown during his lifetime. However, he has since acquired some prominent fans, with C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R Tolkien, citing A Voyage to Arcturus as an influence on their fantasy works. Some critics now see Lindsay’s brand of metaphysical science fiction as the missing link between prominent Scottish writers George Macdonald and Alasdair Gray.
Although it was originally published in 1920, the text confronts philosophical questions of morality, faith, life, death, gender relations, and what it means to be human, all of which remain pertinent today. Our edition will be available as both a p-book and an e–book. We hope we can unite those who participated in the sci-fi renaissance with A Voyage to Arcturus, as well as bring Lindsay’s work to a new audience of sci-fi and fantasy fans. We will hopefully be launching the book in May, coinciding with the point where the star Arcturus is most visible in the night sky.
As a book reviewer, I’m all about the book enabling; I can’t help but want to make people read all the good books out there. But I can always use help. What are your top recommendations of books we should look out for in the coming months?
Amina: The next book I’m going to read is Purity by Franzen. It will come out next month in my native language and I’ve been waiting for it for a while now
Isobel: I am on a book buying ban until I get at least halfway through my to read pile, but I am currently reading Esperanza Street by Niyati Keni.
Julia: It’s not that new but I recommend Bill Bryson’s The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes From a Small Island. It’s cosy and funny.
Margot: My favourite book from 2015 was The Sculptor (graphic novel) by Scott McCloud (genius!), even though it came out in 2014. Everyone has to read it. It is gorgeous and mind blowing. As for the next read, I just started How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran.
Rachel: I reread The Magus by John Fowles a month ago. It’s really deep, but decades old.
Ruth N: I recently read Nod by Adrian Barnes. It explores a sleep deprived post-apocalyptic dystopia. I picked it up by chance and I urge all to read it.
Sophie: If we’re going for modern reads… I might have to say The Diviners by Libba Bray. It’s a brilliantly suspenseful paranormal history.
Finally, I have to stay true to my roots and ask a librarian question to finish off with: Do you shelve your books alphabetically, by genre or do you have an ingenious system?
Amina, Editorial and Marketing: I organise my books by genres (with little plates), but inside the same genre I organise them by similarities between the plots/characters/time period or my random associations.
Isobel, Marketing and Production and Design: My books are organised in a complicated system combining size, genre and how much I like them.
Julia, PM and Marketing: I don’t have a lot of shelf space so my system is too keep out the pretty ones. I know, I’m so shallow…
Margot, Finance and Production and Design: I organise my books first of all by languages and have all my English-written books on 1 or 2 shelves (I have way more French books, sorry). Then by formats: paperbacks on one side, hardbacks on the other, then genres, and within the genres — alphabetical order. And I have a special shelf for my old books.
Rachel, Editorial and Marketing: I don’t organise my books even remotely, I don’t own shelves so they’re all stacked in a boxes…
Ruth N, Editorial and Marketing: My trade fiction books are all organised alphabetically. However my classics are organised separately; firstly by publisher, and then alphabetically.
Sophie, Editorial and Production and Design: I have a super comprehensive book-organizing situation, wherein I sort by genre and/or era of publication, and then within that, authors I think would get along well, and then it’s a matter of size and colour scheme. I tend to only buy books I know I love or books I know are going to take me longer than a month to read, so the shelf itself tends to rank according to most to least favourites downward. (Although I keep Norton anthologies on the bottom shelf because they’re big and heavy)