Myriad was set up in 1993 by the late Anne Benewick, formerly an editor at Pluto Press, and the Hong Kong-based campaigning physician Judith Mackay OBE. Anne had commissioned Judith to produce The State of Health Atlas, the latest in a series of geopolitical atlases, when the company went into liquidation. Faced with the prospect of months of wasted work, Judith suggested setting up their own company. Audacity and tenacity made for robust first principles and Myriad was founded. Their vision, together with the pioneering combination of radical cartography and expert analysis, paved the way for today’s infographics. The flagship title, The State of the World Atlas, is now an established classic, authored by leading international peace researcher Dan Smith OBE; we will publish the 10th edition in 2020. Meanwhile, the completely redesigned new edition of Joni Seager’s feminist classic, The Women’s Atlas, has been flagged by Catherine Mayer (co-founder of the Women’s Equality Party) as ‘the most important book that will be published this year’.
It wasn’t until 2005 that Myriad started publishing under its own imprint, with Publishing Director Candida Lacey at the helm. When the company moved from London to Brighton, we saw the opportunity to celebrate the city and the many writers and artists who come to see the sea—and decide to stay. Our first publication was The Brighton Book in 2005, a mixed-media anthology of fiction, reportage, photography and graphics. We commissioned original work from well-known authors, including Jeanette Winterson, Meg Rosoff and Nigella Lawson, and added new names into the mix. We went on to publish three of the featured debut authors: novelists Martine McDonagh and Lesley Thomson as well as Woodrow Phoenix’s first graphic novel, Rumble Strip, which Jon McGregor reviewed in The Times as ‘an utterly original work of genius’. These books formed the basis and the rationale for our publishing strategy: to seek out home-grown talent and launch the careers of new writers from Brighton and beyond.
With a small grant from the Arts Council in 2009, and again in 2011, Myriad was able to build a publishing programme carefully and selectively, and specialize in original literary fiction and graphic novels. We had an early hit with Elizabeth Haynes’ debut novel: Into the Darkest Corner was Amazon’s Best Book of the Year 2011, selected for TV Book Club 2012 and a New York Times bestseller, and it has been translated into 37 languages.
Like many small publishers, we publish books we love. Myriad’s Creative Director, Corinne Pearlman, was at the heart of the comics scene for years before we started publishing graphic novels, and this meant we could hit the ground running. Our graphics’ list has quickly become established as one of the most thought-provoking and characterful in the UK. Graphic novels are such an effective format for discussing difficult subjects and we have built an unparalleled reputation for publishing graphic books that deal with tough, challenging subjects (graphic medicine, mental health, personal politics, economics, refugees) and political themes.
We organise two work-in-progress competitions, one for fiction (First Drafts) and the other for graphic novels (First Graphic Novel Competition), and these keep us in touch with emerging writers. Both competitions are deeply embedded in Myriad’s mission to support new talent. Both offer a rare opportunity for aspiring authors to bring their work to the attention of publishers and agents, and both have track records of launching authors who progress to achieve creative and commercial success.
In 2017 Myriad merged with New Internationalist as part of a joint plan to expand, reach wider audiences and publish books that push boundaries and embrace diversity. We’d long been admirers of the politics and purpose of New Internationalist, and they were our publishing partners for the UK editions of three of the atlases. While it made sense for both parties to pool expertise and resources, and benefit from economies of scale, this partnership marks an exciting new chapter in Myriad’s development. Our mission is to make the personal political and the local international. We can look further afield for more diverse and international writers and readers. We’re building sales networks and partnerships that will enable us to take our books to global audiences as well as bringing international authors to Myriad.
We joined New Internationalist just at the moment it became the largest cooperatively owed media organization in the UK, swelled by the success of a community share offer and the support of its subscribers and co-owners from around the world. As part of NI, we’re also now part of the International Alliance of Independent Publishers. We’re working together in an industry that has changed almost beyond recognition in our working lifetimes and witnessing neo-liberalism and populist politics ruining lives and destroying human rights. With our authors, colleagues in the industry, and activists on the ground, we are all working towards social change. A large part of this demand for social change is coming from women and, as feminists, we can’t help but be a part of something bigger, something international. We commissioned Cynthia Enloe’s The Big Push shortly after merging with NI, and a year later we’re publishing Sohaila Abdulali’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape. Both are vital, both speak to and of global and urgent shared concerns.
One of Myriad’s defining moments came in November 2016. We had been invited to showcase some of our authors at a salon event at Waterstones Piccadilly. We were there with five of our authors: Sally O’Reilly and Jonathan Kemp write literary fiction, Elizabeth Haynes is a crime writer, and Ian Williams and Una are known for graphic novels and memoir. At first glance it appeared that they had little in common. In fact, each of these five, apparently quite different, authors were helping us to see the world afresh. Their stories challenge boundaries; they touch on difficult subjects; they speak the unspeakable. That evening in Waterstones—four months on from Brexit and the morning after Trump’s election—our raison d’être was clearer than ever before. Never had it felt more important to support writers and artists to tell their stories.
Five months later we partnered with New Internationalist. Today we’re more political and more literary in our publishing, and sharper for it. We have work to do and stories to tell. We all know the power of books. As publishers—and especially as publishers living in these troubled times—we have a duty to harness that power. Books can save and change lives. Myriad’s founders, Anne Benewick and Dr Judith Mackay, established the company to champion books that offer new ways of seeing. Now, 25 years later, it feels more important than ever to find new ways of seeing the world and our place within it. We’re interested in the story an author is telling, not whether the book is fiction or nonfiction, mapped, drawn or written.
We are constantly open to new ideas and new ways of expressing them, and we champion our authors with passion and persuasion. Publishers are natural proselytisers. Staying radical comes naturally; staying alive is about jumping on every opportunity to sell books, partnering with like-minded people, and collaborating with inspiring organisations to work towards a shared purpose.
Independent publishing is no ordinary job, it’s a way of life. There’s such energy and innovation amongst small presses and independent bookshops; we are symbiotically linked and interdependent. We’re all nurturing an endangered culture, and believe passionately in what we’re doing. We need new ways of understanding the past and its relevance to the present; new ways of highlighting inequality and injustice; new ways to make the world a better place.