An Interview with Luke Thompson from Guillemot Press

Beautiful books possess a sort of magic, wouldn't you agree? They can thrill, inspire, soothe and open your mind to another world. Personally, I find just tracing my fingers across a stunningly designed cover can be an entrancing moment in itself. Guillemot Press, a new small independent publisher, creates some of this magic.

Founded in early 2016, Guillemot celebrates ‘the simple, thoughtful and beautiful’, working with local artists, poets and writers in Cornwall to produce elegant and inspiring books.

I wanted to find out more about how Guillemot came to be, so I interviewed Luke Thompson, Editor of Guillemot Press, who is a Lecturer in Creative Writing and Publishing here at Falmouth University.

My intention was to get an insider view into not only the motivation behind the business but also to find out what projects they have coming up. With an exciting book launch on the horizon and a list of intriguing titles in the pipeline, they have a lot going on!


To get the whole story, I chose to start at the beginning of the Guillemot journey, asking Luke what inspired him to set up Guillemot Press.

‘One of the catalysts for the press was the work of Sister Mary Agnes, a contemplative nun-poet who had been cloistered in the Lynton convent in North Devon. I discovered her work while writing a book about another poet and wondered what had happened to her. I wrote a couple of essays on her life and poetry and was put in touch with her relatives, who showed me forty years’ worth of her unpublished poetry. It was a terrific find and I wanted to do it justice.’

‘More generally I love short form writing, playful writing and the materiality of books, so these are some of the guiding principles and preferences of Guillemot Press.’

I was also fascinated to find out about the themes they explore with their books, as this is one of the things that sets them apart from other independent publishers.

‘Something I wanted to look at is writing about or from what I’m (partly metaphorically) calling “edgelands”. That is, writing from a space bordering the known or knowable. That might include responses to faith (either the presence of God or the absence of God), to the monstrous, the explorative (internal and external), and so on, as well as the geographically liminal.’

‘One title we’re looking at for next year is on “Liminography” a term being used to describe “texts that have been produced between worlds”, as the book’s author Rob Dickins puts it. It’s a really interesting idea, encompassing things like automatic writing, Enochian, and methods of “message manifestation”.’

Luke said how all of this, as well as being part of various literary networks - through the magazine he was co-editing, through his own writing practice and through his academic writing on poetry/poets - has informed the process and inspiration behind Guillemot Press.

Another intriguing feature of Guillemot Press is their connection with the local community. I asked Luke how they engage with local talent.

Although Guillemot publishes writers from across the UK and the United States, their artists and illustrators remain closer to home. Over the past 18 months Guillemot have worked with an exciting list of individuals: Kate Walters, Phyllida Bluemel, John Kilburn, Lucy Kerr, Emily Juniper and CF Sherratt. All of them are living in Cornwall and most of them are new, young talents. 

In terms of production, they work with a small family-run printer in the next village, where they have produced all of their wonderful books.

‘Roy has a ton of experience in all methods of production and has humoured us through digital, litho and letterpress printing techniques, as well as embossing, blocking, thermography, sewing, french-folding, map-style folding and who knows what else. Our logo also came from up the road, in Wadebridge, designed by a lovely little firm called Pickle Design.’

It might be a rather open question, but I had to ask him:
What do you love most about running Guillemot Press?

Luke said coming up with what he loves ‘most’ would be hard, but he offered a shortlist.

‘I love reading all the new work from the writers. We get constant submissions and enquiries and that’s really exciting. And I love the problem of the manuscript - how to make it work in terms of format, typography and design. Does it want images, or is it best left alone? Then testing, printing, tweaking. For those that are illustrated, that’s a very sensitive field. It’s really easy to ruin a book with wrong illustration.’

'Equally, sometimes a pairing can really excite and lift a book. For instance, I was amazed when I saw Lucy Kerr’s responses to Nic Stringer’s forthcoming debut A Day that you Happen to Know. The text was already wonderful and exciting and playful, themed around certainty, but then Lucy came along with this sequence of vibrant, stunning illusions and the work really came into focus. It’s difficult to describe, but it quite suddenly felt complete.’

‘Then there’s the moment of completion (at least in terms of production). You’ve spent days with the printers, playing with papers, taking the artist to test colours, and so on, and then you collect the first complete copy. You don’t know how it will turn out - there are so many things that can (and do) go wrong - and you don’t know for sure whether it will work, so collecting that first book is an anxious and magical moment.’

Having heard about the magic of creating new books, I wanted to know more about the future, so I asked Luke what was in store for Guillemot Press.

‘We’re building slowly and organically. We published four books in 2016, this year we will have done eight, and next year we’re looking at around twelve new titles. That looks like a good number to me. But there are lots of interesting things happening at the moment.’

One of the interesting things that Luke is really excited about is ‘the development of a relationship with probably the best short story salon in the country, The Word Factory. They have an incredible list of writers and we’ll be beginning our fiction list with them in June 2018 with four multi-award-winning writers. That’s going to be great!’

I was also interested to find out about any new, exciting projects coming up.

‘I honestly find all of our projects exciting. Every book is built differently so we get to play with different techniques, different artists, different papers, different methods of binding, as well as different texts. I really enjoy that aspect of Guillemoting.’

‘In terms of individual books, those short stories are a big excitement, but so is a little book by Amy McCauley, which we’re working on with the artist Emily Juniper. This is Amy’s debut and it’s a real beauty, but it has lots of formatting challenges. Emily Juniper is the perfect choice for it. She is a brilliantly innovative illustrator, designer and bookmaker. I have no idea what this book is going to look like yet. So that’s good.’

Luke also talked about their book launch in November and told me there are some festival collaborations being discussed for next year.

‘This year we did a little at Bodmin Moor Poetry Festival. Then we made a daily newspaper at Port Eliot Festival on our risograph, using lots of young illustrators and writers to create content on site in the day, then printing and folding overnight. Lots of work, early starts and late nights, but good fun.’

Before letting Luke go, I had one final question:
Have you ever seen a Guillemot?

‘Yes! I spent some time on Inishmore off the west coast of Ireland and there were hundreds of black guillemots, as well as all sorts of other interesting birds - razorbills, choughs, and heaps and heaps of cuckoos…’

If you fancy finding out more about Guillemot Press, Luke invites you to join them at their book launch on 11th November at Terre Verte Gallery in Altarnun on Bodmin Moor. They are bringing the poets Andrew McNeillie, Martyn Crucefix and Nic Stringer together to launch three of their autumn titles and are hosting an exhibition by two of their artists, Phyllida Bluemel and Lucy Kerr.

‘It’s free and there will be wine,’ he said. ‘So come along!’

Wine and book magic? I’m sold.

By Charlotte Rayment