When I was working at Bookseller+Publisher, Kabita Dhara wrote an article for us on her Asialink residency in India. In New Delhi, Kabita worked on literature that had been translated into English from India’s many regional languages, with a view to understanding the processes behind choosing a title for translation and assessing markets for it. Kabita, an editor, former bookseller and book reviewer, arrived home inspired, and decided to address a lack of cultural conversation between India and Australia. And so arose Brass Monkey Books, an imprint of Hunter Publishers. I got in touch with Kabita to ask her a few questions about her new venture.
Can you tell us a bit about why you’ve started your own publishing company? What gap is it addressing in the Australian market?
Brass Monkey Books came about largely because of my frustration that wonderful Indian books were not getting to Australian readers, and vice versa. Most of the Indian books we get here are through the UK or the US, so we are at their mercy as to what we have available here. Consequently, we don’t see a wide range of Indian titles here, and they are often about the same themes and often have similar covers – henna patterns, sepia tints, paisley borders.
The same applies to Australian books reaching Indian audiences. Apart from Tim Winton, Peter Carey and Thomas Keneally, very few Australian writers appear on Indian bookshop shelves.
I think it is time Australia and India started having direct cultural exchanges that fall outside Bollywood and cricket!
Where did the name Brass Monkey Books come from? Can you reveal any of the other names you kicked around before settling on that one?
The book that changed my life, in a literary sense, was Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. I read it when I was sixteen and, although I’d always read a lot as a child and loved a lot of very diverse books, Midnight’s Children changed the way I looked at ‘Literature’ and the possibilities of language.
I wanted the name of the imprint to pay homage, in a little way, to this wonderful book, so I chose the name of one of the characters in it. I later found out it meant a lot of other things, and that there were lots of pubs called Brass Monkey, but to my delight, it is also the name of a cocktail and I thought it was pretty cool to have a publishing house that has its own cocktail!
Why are you the best person to run Brass Monkey Books?
I identify as both Australian and Indian, and it saddens me when I see both countries persisting with misconceptions about each other instead of forging a relationship based on direct communication. For me, this has translated into a drive to make both countries see each other in a truer form, and I think writing has a large part to play in this recognition.
I also have an understanding of Indian and Australian literary culture through living and working and reading in both countries, so I can see the points of similarity and common interest.
What kind of books will you be publishing? How will you source your manuscripts?
To start with, I’ll be publishing Indian literature in English by fresh, new (to Australia) voices. I am also looking at works in translation from India’s numerous languages. I am also commissioning some non-fiction that looks at the Australia-India relationship in a serious and not-so-serious way.
I’m sourcing my manuscripts simply through reading – A LOT. Books I’ve picked up in India, tips from Indian writer friends, interesting conversations with Australians and Indians who identify with my goals – these are all sources of inspiration.
Can you tell us about the books you’re launching the company with? And how you came about them?
The first two books are novels by a wonderful young writer called Anjum Hasan – Lunatic in My Head and Big Girl Now. They are based in Shillong and Bangalore, two rarely written parts of India, and are insightful looks into contemporary India. Her voice is very different from what we usually get in Australia, completely globalised yet distinctly Indian. Some of the language might take some getting used to, but if we can make sense of Trainspotting and Ulysses then this will be a walk in the park!
I found Anjum’s work by hearing about it from Indian writer friends and on blogs, walking into a bookstore in India, buying her books and reading them. The rest followed quite naturally.
The website for Brass Monkey Books can be found here.