All roads lead to Medina

13 April 2015

A desire to republish an equine classic led Kitty Carruthers and Peter Harrigan to set up Medina Publishing. Six years later, an eclectic list – soon to include a behind-the-scenes recollection of Bob Dylan at the Isle of Wight – is testimony to the joys of the indie life.

Medina Publishing. “Who the hell are they?” you ask. “Sounds a bit Arab.”

It’s more than a bit Arab actually, Medina being one of the two Holy Cities of Islam, but it’s also the name of the main river of the Isle of Wight, where the company first had its registered office. With our Arabian and Isle of Wight connections, the name seemed to fit.

When the two founding directors of MPL got together in 2009 to publish Peter Upton’s The Arab Horse, the intention was merely to bring back into print the definitive work on a subject close to both our hearts. A modest ambition: set up an imprint, perhaps do a couple more books on horses, have fun, then carry on with our real lives – in Peter Harrigan’s case, travelling, sailing, writing about Middle Eastern affairs; in my case, easing into retirement and pursuing a passion for music, sport and the Olympics.

Six years later, we wonder how it is that we have in print almost 60 titles, which range from academic tomes to bodice rippers; from YA to the Wahhabis; from Dylan (of whom more later) to demogarchy (go on, look it up); from being two enthusiasts doing what they love to struggling with VAT and corporation tax? How did we get on the back of this tiger?

How indeed! We’d both been in publishing most of our adult lives and thought we knew the dangers and potential pitfalls. You BookBrunch followers probably know them all, but it turned out that we didn’t – not by a long chalk. Nevertheless, in spite of escalating costs, diminishing profits, a market that shrinks and expands where and when you least expect it, censorship and other embuggerances, we’re still going strong. We’ve evolved, adapted, grown; we’re proof that you can teach an old dog new tricks. These two old dogs (three if you count the Major, our Finance Director, and six if you count the office canines) have learned to embrace the digital world, keep pace with the social media revolution, experiment with new technologies in printing, and broaden our horizons and subject matter. And we have a young staff who hold our trembling hands when the pace of progress threatens to knock us off our feet.

When you said you’d never heard of Medina Publishing, it’s not surprising. We don’t have a high profile, we are not rich and famous: not famous because we publish by and large specialist Arab and equestrian titles, and not rich because we have extremely high standards, go the extra mile to keep our authors happy, and have invested in staff, premises and the odd (sometimes very odd) speculative title.

Somebody once said, “It’s a shame that something as creative and vital to the nature of the human species as storytelling is largely controlled by the soulless cretins known as publishers.” A bit strong perhaps, but I reckon he has a point about the written and spoken word nurturing the soul. The reading public these days is more often offered a literary diet of crisps and Coke, rather than chicken and Chablis (which doesn’t cost much more) and they ought to be able to get filet mignon and Fitou if they really want it!

But seriously, we do care about things like quality and equality, intelligence and integrity, kindness and cultural understanding, ecology and sustainability, our future and the future of our children. Apologies if that sounds high falutin’ and pretentious, but take a quick look at a few of our titles:

Small Miracles: The Story of the Princess Alia Foundation (an extraordinary charitable endeavour promoting respect for all creation – I’ve been to the Foundation in Jordan many times and the cruelty and ignorance there and across the world, and the guts and humanity with which they deal with it would both make you cry); SeaBEAN Trilogy (climate fiction at its best with ecology at its heart – and a world first in the exciting thermochromic covers); Demogarchy (how democracy could and should work – a book to change the way you look at how we are governed); Bullying Stinkz/GR8 As U Are (forthcoming title on preventing bullying with zany characters, song and a strong message); Dementia Decade (forthcoming title on coming to terms with Alzheimer’s and love and loss, through one woman’s harrowing story); and a raft of titles for children and adults that are designed to help them understand and appreciate the history and heritage of other cultures. (We do the frivolous as well, mostly under our Barzipan imprint – you’ve got to lighten up occasionally.)

Pretentious or not, we do at least try to provoke thought, promote cultural understanding, and simultaneously to entertain and educate. And, actually, we’re still having fun.

Back to Bob Dylan. Almost half a century ago, a bunch of young guys on the Isle of Wight had a dream of organising a pop festival. The 1960s was a decade of idealism and innocence, and music was not yet a business – how else to explain how Ray Foulk and his brothers landed the biggest star of them all. Stealing Dylan from Woodstock by Ray Foulk, organizer of the 1968, ’69 and ’70 Isle of Wight Festivals, tells the remarkable story of how – tempted by Tennyson and the promise of a secluded manor house – Dylan broke his long silence to play at a festival held on an inaccessible island off England’s south coast, just as 400,000 people prepared to turn on, tune in and drop out down the road from his home at Woodstock, New York.

Out in June 2015, Stealing Dylan from Woodstock is the first of two volumes (the second is due this autumn), and it tells the remarkable backstage story of the 1969 Festival by the man who crammed Dylan and his wife Sara, plus John Lennon and Ringo Starr and their wives, into his Ford Zodiac en route to one of the most eagerly anticipated performances in rock history. The press officer for the event was my co-director Peter Harrigan, then just 20, and a student at Birmingham University.

As the saying goes, what a long strange trip it’s been.

Stealing Dylan from Woodstock by Ray Foulk with Caroline Foulk is published by Medina on 4 June. See
Orders via, Central Books, Amazon and major retailers.

Contact Kitty Carruthers during LBF on 0753442636

Link to BookBrunch article online