An open letter to The Bookseller

Last week The Bookseller ran an obituary marking the passing of our former owner Livia Gollancz and praising the contribution she and her father, founder Victor Gollancz, made to publishing and their ethos and approach to the business.

Sadly their opening remarks were less generous.

Having taken time to consider and discuss this over the weekend, we have decided to respond to The Bookseller as follows, in an open letter written by Orion Group Publisher, Jon Wood.

 

 

I was genuinely shocked to see the comments about Gollancz in Livia’s obituary published in last week’s edition of The Bookseller. To describe a beloved publishing list as ‘merely a science fiction imprint’ and its last two decades as a ‘tragedy’ is offensive to my colleagues; our authors and fans; our reviewers and bloggers; fellow SFF publishers and to the wider genre community. Whilst everyone has a right to their personal opinion and literary preferences, to air such a definitive bias against genre fiction in the obituary of our former owner was troubling and frankly insulting.

 

It is easy to point out how many of the greatest works ever written are SF or Fantasy titles. From the Iliad to Jules Verne, to George Orwell’s 1984; to The Handmaid’s Tale, and right up to Naomi Alderman’s The Power, speculative fiction has always been an unrivalled way our exploring our world and society. It is just as easy – as your publication has demonstrated – to dismiss that claim by saying those books are ‘proper’ literary novels not ‘merely SFF’.

 

That argument is nonsense. Worse, it is prejudiced and badly informed nonsense.

 

Genre fiction – since the snobbery is not just against SFF, it’s levelled against crime, romance, women’s fiction, and other genres too – is a vital form of self-expression that delves into the nature of humanity both as it is, and as it could be. Political commentary, social critique, empowerment, standing up for others and freeing your imagination lie at the heart of SFF and – if you’ll forgive us for drawing on the genre here – aliens visiting our planet could learn everything there is to know about our race and society from perusing the pages of Terry Pratchett, George RR Martin, Joanne Harris, Ursula Le Guin, Stephen King and Iain M Banks.

 

The Gollancz imprint, which I am deeply fortunate to be part of, stands for the absolute best of what publishing should be: passionately advocating new writers; winning awards; preserving the greatest titles of the past through the Masterworks and SF Gateway lists; engaging directly with readers through its own festival and putting more books into more hands than any other SFF publisher in the UK.

 

We strive every day to live up the legacy that Victor and Livia Gollancz have bequeathed to us – actively honouring their ethos and approach to publishing in a way that is conscious and visible in our publishing, from preserving the logo and imprint name to continuing to use the iconic yellow jackets, building reader communities and publishing strong, challenging voices. Gollancz is the oldest SFF brand in the UK, and was one of the first in the world, and we and our authors are justly proud to be a part of it.

 

Over the past two decades Gollancz has evolved into a vibrant and exciting SFF publisher,  built by an incredible publishing team and a powerhouse of authors, which will continue the Gollancz legacy for many decades to come. We may be SFF fans through and through – and we are not perfect – but nor, by any definition of the word, are we a ‘tragedy’.

 

Yours,

Jon Wood, Group Publisher, Orion

 

When asked for comment, the author of the article, Liz Thomson, provided the following statement:

My comments on the diminution of Victor Gollancz should not be interpreted as a slight on the proud history of SF publishing itself, at Gollancz or anywhere else. Rather it is a reminder, to readers and publishers too young to remember the ‘old’ Gollancz, that Victor Gollancz Ltd was a leader in so many ways and an independent powerhouse that set standards and trends in both adult and children’s publishing.

 

Victor and Livia – and their many colleagues who got their start at Gollancz and went on to make distinguished contributions across the trade, among them Giles Gordon, Hilary Rubinstein, Liz Calder and Joanna Goldsworthy – discovered and fostered an extraordinarily wide range of writing talent. Throughout it all, Victor Gollancz Ltd held fast to core political, social and moral beliefs. Long before “corporate social responsibility” became a buzz term, Gollancz conducted its business in a socially responsible way – The Green Consumer Guide (1988) was but one book that was way ahead of its time. And we forget at our peril that the Left Book Club was an extremely important initiative which played a key role in the shaping of post-War Britain.

 

That is what has been forgotten – airbrushed out, consciously or unconsciously – as Gollancz was bought and sold and slotted into the corporate environment. Gollancz itself, and publishing in general, is a key part of Britain’s history and heritage.

 

Those of us who work in publishing like to think of ourselves as upholders of the truth, keepers of the flame. Everyday in the news we see how history is casually rewritten – publishing should not proceed down that path.

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