Salt publishers: Celebrating 20 years

Salt Publishing's Chris and Jen Hamilton-Emery with Man Booker prize nominated title, The Lighthouse

Salt Publishing's Chris and Jen Hamilton-Emery with Man Booker prize nominated title, The Lighthouse by Alison Moore (photo: Antony Kelly) - Credit: © ARCHANT NORFOLK PHOTOGRAPHIC

Ghosts, childhood and a beloved figure from 1980s feature in new novels from a publisher celebrating its 20th anniversary

A husband and wife are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the publishing company they run from their Cromer home. Salt has become renowned for finding and nurturing new talent. Its authors have twice been nominated for the Booker prize and shortlisted for many more literary awards.

Chris and Jen Hamilton-Emery receive many hundreds of manuscripts a year, publishing around 15. "We publish books that tell a story that hasn't been told before, and that are written well, that readers will enjoy and remember," said Jen.

"We have met and worked with many fabulous writers and learnt so much - the world of books is endlessly fascinating - and there's always something new to discover. We've had lots of laughs along the way, travelled the world and been to a fair few parties! Life certainly hasn't been dull."

Their biggest successes have included Alison Moore's The Lighthouse being shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the National Book Awards, and Chris winning an American Book Award for services to Native American Poetry.

Last year they turned to Twitter to urge readers to buy #JustOneBook. "I was literally chatting on Twitter and within a few hours, we'd raised thousands. Posting it had such an amazing impact," said Chris.

The couple, who have three children, are also writers themselves; Chris is a poet and Jen a playwright.

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They publish authors from around the globe but this summer they have launched several novels with Norfolk links including:

Haverscroft by Sally Harris

Sally Harris is a Norwich family law solicitor and mother-of-three and her first novel is a ghost story, inspired by Norfolk.

"I have loved ghost stories since I was a small child so it felt very natural to write one," said Sally. "Fear is one of our strongest emotions, essential to our survival. Dark corners, shifting shadows or unfamiliar noises can just as easily spook us today as they did our ancestors over millennia. People never tire of a good scare."

Her haunting novel merges the past and present, and real and imagined places.

"I have never seen a ghost but would absolutely love to do so!" she said. "The old servant's bedroom at the rear of our home has often made visitors exclaim about a 'bad' feeling. No-one can define it more than that but they all make a hasty exit to the stairs. I feel nothing myself but too many unconnected visitors have said the same thing."

The house in her story was inspired by her own 1840s house in Norwich, melded with features from some of Norfolk's beautiful country houses and parks. "It is so clear, even now I sometimes take a walk through its rooms and climb the wide staircase or sit on the small metal seat beneath the willow trees and watch the water ripple across the pond," she said. The village church in her novel was based on Surlingham church and the characters arrived in her mind nine years ago. She enrolled in evening classes to help her write her first novel and said: "My first contact with Salt was an email from Christopher Hamilton-Emery offering to publish Haverscroft. That got things off to a cracking good start!

"Salt is one of the UK's foremost independent publishers and any writer would be proud to become one of their authors. Their passion for books and their authors runs through all they do.

"The little packs of salt, handwritten notes from Jennifer Hamilton-Emery inside each order of books is not something that comes with the bigger publishing houses. And of course, like me, they live in Norfolk. What's not to like?"

After Absalon by Simon Okotie

Simon Okotie has written three novels inspired by the Norwich man, nicknamed Marigold, who used to wear yellow rubber gloves to unofficially direct traffic on the city's inner ring road.

"I never met him, but, like so many people, I would occasionally see him in Norwich during the 80s, unofficially directing traffic on the inner ring road wearing yellow rubber gloves," said Simon.

"One of the things that interested me, growing as a mixed race child in rural Norfolk at that time, was that he was a black man, and that he seemed to be much-loved.

"I was also interested in why he did what he did - something I have never found a satisfactory answer to. I ended up working in transport planning and writing novels, so he was an obvious starting point for my main character! I have been trying to understand the mind of this character ever since."

Simon grew up in Thetford, Swaffham and Necton and After Absalon is the final book of his trilogy about an investigator trying to trace a transport advisor. It has been hailed as eccentric, audacious and compelling.

Your Fault by Andrew Cowan

Andrew Cowan is the course director for the University of East Anglia's Creative Writing Programme.

His latest novel recreates, in intense and vibrant detail, a 1960s and 70s middle-England childhood.

Told from the point of view of a child, from toddler to teen, it merges day-to-day routine with a looming sense of dread as themes of memory, blame and guilt emerge.