Gritstone’s story

Andrew Bibby tells the story of the Gritstone publishing co-op and introduces the seven author-members.
March 27, 2022

We are, we’d like to think, a rather special sort of publishing house. Gritstone Publishing has been going now for six years as Britain’s only author-run publisher. We’re a co-operative society publishing books about the outdoors, the landscape and natural history, and as our name suggests we have a strong northern focus. There are seven members of the co-op (our members live mainly in Yorkshire, but we also have members in Cumbria and Derbyshire) and between us we’d like to think that we produce some pretty special books.

Mainstream publishing has changed a great deal in recent years, as books become increasingly just another commodity to try to tempt consumers to part with their money. Increasingly editorial considerations give way to commercial values. And one result of this shift is that authors have less and less control over their works –and certainly less and less reward for the work they put in. The Society of Authors’ regular survey of writers’ incomes is always a depressing read: while a small number of writers make the big time the vast majority get by on pittances.

Andrew Bibby, founder and award winning author

Gritstone is one way of putting a little more control back into authors’ hands. Almost all of us in the co-op have had books published by the big commercial publishing houses, but now we’re doing-it-ourselves. It’s not a new idea: farmers, for example, have a long tradition of setting up marketing co-ops for everything from eggs to milk. Gritstone is effectively a marketing co-op too. Through it we share a common brand and a common website, a more effective way of reaching potential readers than if we simply chose to go it alone.

There’s another aspect to Gritstone too. Writing can be a solitary occupation, and it’s good to socialise with other authors. Gritstone provides an effective way for members to receive encouragement and critical peer support for our writing projects. Solidarity is enshrined as one of our founding principles, and certainly our regular co-op meetings provide an opportunity not just to talk business but also to share what we’re working on.

We take care to produce attractive and well-designed books, and feedback from readers suggests we’re succeeding. What sort of books might you find under the Gritstone imprint? The short answer would be to go to our (where of course you would be free to fill your virtual shopping basket with all the books that catch your eye).

A selection of Gritstone titles

But a longer answer seems appropriate. In recent months we’ve brought out Yorkshire: Ancient Nation, Future Province, an in-depth exploration by Colin Speakman of the very essence of what they call God’s Own Country. Colin, well known as the founding father of the Dales Way long distance path as well as a tireless campaigner for better public transport, has three other books out through Gritstone, including the first comprehensive guide to the Yorkshire Wolds.

Eileen Jones has attracted considerable success with her book on the park run phenomenon, the volunteer-led initiative that every Saturday morning at 9am sees tens of thousands of ordinary people across Britain (and now across the world) turnup to their local parks to run or walk five kilometres. How parkrun changed our lives is Eileen’s song of praise to the way that parkruns have given so many people the best possible start to their weekends.

Laurence Rose, recently retired from a senior position at the RSPB, brings all his conservation experience and passion to two Gritstone titles, Framing Nature and, more recently, Leopard Moon Rising. For this last book Laurence travelled to India tohear first-hand accounts from the Warli people living in the urban forests of Mumbai and the Maldhari pastoralists of Gujarat of how they live harmoniously alongside some of the allegedly most dangerous animals in the world.

Colin Speakman with W. Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin at the launch of  Yorkshire: Ancient Nation, Future Province

Chris Goddard is a cartographer based in the South Pennines whose beautiful hand-drawn guides to the moorlands and the woodlands of Yorkshire can increasingly be found on the bookshelves of those who appreciate our northern landscapes. Chris is now hard at work on a set of guides to the forthcoming England Coast Path, due to open later in 2022.

We’re delighted too to have Chiz Dakin as another Gritstone member. Chiz is both a photographer and cyclist whose books have been published by outdoor publishers such as Cicerone and Northern Eye. Chiz’s first title for Gritstone is being eagerly awaited!

To complete the Gritstone co-operative, there are our two Andrews. Andrew McCloy tempts you to relax with his book (and perhaps a pint) as you discover the curious history behind many of our Peak District Pubs, while Andrew Bibby’s Back Roads through Middle England (winner of the Outdoor Book of the Year award) takes you on a bike ride to explore the landscapes along the Jurassic limestone of southern and mid-countries England. What’s more, if crime is your thing, Andrew B also has a set of three novels set among the Cumbrian fells, the most recent Too Hot for Comfort having a strong environmental theme.

As a fully mutual co-op, Gritstone differs from most publishers in that we only bring out titles written by the members. What began back in 2016 as just a possible good idea talked through by our first four members has, we feel, taken off to an extent we never expected. We’ve found ourselves growing, to five, then six and now to seven members. And we feel positive about our future development. After all, we live in a beautiful part of England. There’s no shortage of material for future titles waiting outside our front doors!