In August 2019, we launch our new publishing project, Word After Word Press, focussing on works of non-fiction, including memoir, nature and place writing.

In this interview with Fiona Mason, we find out a bit more about plans and ideas for Word After Word Press.

Starting a ‘publishing house’ sounds like a massive new development. Can you say a bit about that and what’s involved?

Well, to start with, ‘publishing house’ is a rather grand way of describing this new strand of work. In 2008 I started a ‘record label’, an equally grand way of describing what was, in fact, an independent creative project like any other, with a set of requirements, and a planned outcome. There are a lot of similarities and both ventures require some basic ingredients, the most important of which is a good creative product. After that, it’s about getting the project ready (editing, mastering, design), getting it printed (book, CD) and getting it out before the public to enjoy. In fact, it’s easier than you might think.

You mention similarities between book publishing and starting a record label. Can you say more?

Yes, sure. I’m really passionate about artists (musicians, authors, any other creative) taking ownership of the output of their creative work. I’ve worked in the music industry supporting niche artists in jazz, world music and folk. Unless they’re a strongly commercial act, like Jamie Cullum, for example, it’s always going to be difficult to get a major label to look at them. There’s simply no financial incentive for taking an experimental act and applying big-budget studio time and marketing to them. This is no reflection on quality – it’s simply the reality of the commodification of creativity. I started a label because I wanted to create a vehicle for working collaboratively with musicians. For me, it was an extension of the other work I supported – live tours, R&D, development. It seemed odd not to add creating CDs and DVDs into the mix. For the more niche artists who are going to struggle to get signed by a big label, collaborating with an indie label is an exciting alternative. Similarly, if your writing project is somewhat niche, working with a small indie press can be a great way to get your work out into the public domain. Now, if the artist/label/publisher team works hard on promotion and the product does well, there’s always the chance that a bigger label/publisher becomes interested and seeks to take the project on. So really, it’s a win-win situation.

Okay, so back to Word After Word Press, your focus is on non-fiction. What’s the rationale?

Some non-fiction books will always have strong commercial potential, either because the author is already well known, or it’s a series commissioned by a publishing house with all the marketing might behind it, or it’s about a popular topic that has a clear and ready market. What we’re interested in are the slightly more niche titles. We’ve included in the list memoir, nature and place writing. I’m personally interested in an approach that combines excellent writing with something informative, something the reader can learn from. With memoir, it’s not writing about or by anyone famous, but rather writing that reveals the extraordinary in ordinary lives. With nature and place writing, it’s the combination of clear, informative text about the topic at hand and a rich prose style that strongly evokes a sense of place. Rather like my approach with music, I want to give niche authors the opportunity to work collaboratively on every stage of the project, from shaping concept to printed book (or e-book). If a bigger publisher comes along and takes an interest, then that’s an exciting addition to the mix. I see our role to be getting interesting, important work out into the public domain.

Tell us about your first publication.

Well, I’m really excited about it, because our first publication is somewhat of a family affair, and unashamedly so. It’s a book written by my brother, edited by me and dedicated to the memory of our mother, Shena Mason, who died in 2014. Mum was a writer and editor and a great supporter of all of our creative endeavours. I guess we’ve followed in her footsteps, in our own particular ways.

What’s the booked called and what’s it about?

It’s called The Making of Ynyslas and it’s the first in a series of books about the geology and landscape of some key sites in Wales. The book brings to life the remarkable tale of the origin of this popular destination on the Cardigan Bay coast of Mid-Wales. It takes the reader on a journey through deep time, charting and explaining the most dramatic changes to Earth’s climate: the periodic plunges into the Icehouse state, where Polar ice-caps are the norm and during which glaciers periodically surge towards and then retreat from the Equator. The book then zooms in on the time-line, looking in greater detail at the last 25,000 years – a time of great transition, since back then Wales itself had an ice-cap and a vast glacier occupied the space now taken up by the Irish Sea. Drawing upon the extensive scientific literature on Cardigan Bay, this is a vivid narrative of the changes that led to the creation of the familiar landscape of today — what happened, when it happened and why — and how such changes may have been reflected in Welsh folklore, with the legend of the Kingdom of Cantre’r Gwaelod and its terrible fate.

Tell us more about the author.

John S Mason, MPhil, is a geologist by training with a long-held love of wildlife and a deep interest in weather and climate. He has been walking, sea-fishing, photographing landscapes, wildlife and weather, day and night around Ynyslas for over 35 years. On climate change, he writes for the award-winning website, Skeptical Science, with a particular focus upon research into climates of the past. He is also the author of the successful Shore Fishing – a Guide to Cardigan Bay(Coch y Bonddu Books, Machynlleth, 2013), Introducing Mineralogy(Dunedin Academic Press, 2016) and numerous peer-reviewed contributions to British Mineralogy, including co-authorship of the major volume, Mineralization in England and Wales(published by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee).

What inspired him?

The book has been long in the making. It began life in 2014 as a detailed analysis of our geological origins in Wales, but it became something of a journey of discovery, through aspects of the Earth sciences that John, as a mineralogist, had not entirely appreciated. Rather than seek to publish it all in a single weighty volume, he realised it would reach a wider readership if it could be sliced up into bite-sized portions, with the focus each time on a specific, well-loved place in the Welsh Landscape. The next slice is coming soon, but for now, he hopes that readers will enjoy this part of the story and, if it can ignite the spark of curiosity in one young mind, he’ll be happy.

Who is it aimed at and what can the reader expect?

The book is aimed at visitors to Ynyslas, people with an interest in Wales, those who would like to understand more about what geology can tell us about our origins and our future, and anyone who enjoys nature and place writing. We want this book to become the go-to guide to this fascinating and important area of outstanding natural beauty and provide new ways of seeing the landscape, including the famous Submerged Forest. I’ve always been a fan of John’s writing. He has a knack for explaining complex science in clear terms that non-scientists can understand, coupled with a lively and evocative prose style. The book is richly illustrated with John’s colour photography and informative graphics. Designer, Sara Holloway, has done a fantastic job bringing all these elements together.

When and where can we get hold of the book?

Publication date is early August 2019, with a Wales launch to follow. Watch this space for more information!

What’s next for Word After Word Press?

We want to build a small editorial team to support our projects to ensure we maintain quality. Looking forward to 2020, we’ll be opening one submission window a year and will publish submission guidelines and timeline towards the end of 2019.

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