I started this series on my old book reviewing blog Live Many Lives, but it is a feature that is all about positivity and the celebration of people whose work or character have had an influence on me, so I want to keep it going. The previous two instalments so far featured authors whose work is published by Orenda Books, so it struck me as beyond time for me to write something in appreciation of the driving force behind Orenda Books, Karen Sullivan. This is my love letter to Karen who has introduced me to so many fabulous authors, but more importantly than any of that is a remarkable and lovely woman.
I first ‘met’ Karen Sullivan when she was still working for Acadia, although I imagine that Orenda Books was very much in the planning at the time. Danny Rhodes had written a book about Hillsborough from the perspective of a Nottingham Forest fan and Karen got in touch to ask if I would be able to review it on my blog. It was the beginning of what would become a book collecting obsession, it pains me every day that my Orenda collection sits incomplete, and more importantly a series of meetings and friendships with some hugely talented people.
Danny’s novel Fan really touched a nerve, as I had shared many experiences that the lead character had in following Forest, including being present at Hillsborough on that fateful day, and I like to think that came across in my review. Karen was also working with Finnish author Kati Hiekkapelto on her English translation debut The Hummingbird and suddenly I was no longer a Nottingham Forest blogger, but a book blogger too. Karen set up the independent publishing house Orenda Books and an early launch event saw her bring Kati and best-selling Norwegian author Gunnar Staalesen to the Derby Waterstones, so off I went to meet them.
Sat in the Dolphin in Derby city centre the crossovers continued as I learnt that Gunnar’s fictional detective Varg Veum, who has his own statue in Gunnar’s home town of Bergen, is also a Forest fan. The threads were coming together and this was clearly meant to be. Right from the off it struck me how everyone connected to Orenda Books was open, friendly, collaborative and passionate about what they were doing. As the stable of authors has grown and the number of publications has put pressure on the capacity of my bookshelves, that has remained and it has become clear that it is because Orenda is a reflection of Karen herself and her values and characteristics run through it.
When you go to an Orenda event there is an atmosphere of friendship and family. There might be 15 or more people on the stage for a roadshow but there is no jostling for position, no ‘galacticos’, every author whatever their individual status supports every other, they are a team. I have wondered how Karen does it, adding more and more authors to her stable from all sorts of different genres and nationalities, but maintaining that supportive environment. I think it is as much as anything down to her sheer hard work and passion for what she does. She is a force of nature and this publishing house is the result.
Of course I have my favourites, but what strikes me about my Orenda bookshelf is how varied it is, how consistently impressive the quality of the writing and storytelling is and how every single author is there only because Karen introduced them to me. There are some authors for whom I have whole series of books, such as Louise Beech, David Ross, Simone Buchholz and Paul Hardisty, and I wait excitedly for each new release. With others I have just a single book, received with no real idea of what it would hold, but that have left a deep mark, such as Su Bristow’s haunting Seal Skin, a beautiful retelling of the Selkie legend, and Yusuf Toropov’s poignant thriller Jihadi: A Love Story.
There is a danger as I write this of conflating Karen Sullivan the person with Orenda Books, the business that she has created. My interaction with Karen comes from the books that she publishes and the events that flow from them, but it is essential to separate the two because it is the person that Karen is that distinguishes her and defines Orenda. I can think of no one I have met who is busier and has more reason to be distracted and unattentive to random passers-by such as myself, but she is entirely the opposite. She makes you feel like you are a part of the family, valued and appreciated, with every interaction.
Every author talks about how supported they feel working with Karen and how expertly she works with their talents and texts to bring them to the reality of a published book, but to be able to continue that on to bloggers and readers as well shows what an authentic part of her personality it is. Of course, that doesn’t give her an easy ride, you only ever get an honest review, but it does mean that you enjoy every success that she achieves and you are invested in every author that she works with. To be just a small part of Team Orenda is a privilege and to hold those beautifully designed books, read them and meet their authors has been a delight. So, thank you Karen, this one is for you.
Body of Work
Where do I even start with this? I have a spreadsheet of published and upcoming books from Orenda and currently it has 108 books listed on it and is constantly growing. I have 84 of them in one form or another, hardback, paperback or ebook. I admit that I still have some of those on my To Be Read list, but I’m doing my best to keep up with Karen’s endless energy for what she does.
Amongst the list are books from Iceland, Finland, Norway, France, Germany, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Hull. The writing ranges from star crossed lovers to menopausal prison officers, from ancient mythology to up to the minute thriller, cool detectives, delusional detectives, carers, abusers, fledgling rock musicians to experienced serial killers, but it’s all held together by the absolute certainty of quality writing and beautifully produced books.
See complete details on all of the books published and upcoming, as well as their authors, at the Orenda Books website.
What Other Say
Karen quite literally made my dream come true. When she published How to be Brave in 2015, I had been trying to get a book deal for almost ten years. It changed my life. I don’t know anyone in publishing with more passion, more dedication, and more knowledge than Karen. She deserves every success that comes her way.
Louise Beech @LouiseWriter
This modern-day collective of independent Merry Pranksters was named Orenda, which (amongst other things…) represents freedom of the soul. Karen Sullivan is our inspirational leader; the super-driver. The last Canadian heroine. The mythical Demi-Goddess.
The question is not when she’s gonna stop…but who is gonna stop her?
She’s the Berry Gordy of publishing and Orenda Books is her Tamla Motown: the indisputable fucking beating heart of independently published words and stories.
David F Ross @dfr10
I had to keep this section brief as I wanted the post to be a surprise and it’s hard to do that in the book blogging world. It would be great if others would like to add to this section by posting their own thoughts in the comments and adding to this celebration.