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Friday, December 1, 2023

“We’re here to publish stories from Northern South Asian writers” How two Bradford grads have launched their own publishing company

These two women are juggling postgraduate degrees, full-time day jobs, and establishing a publishing company specifically for South Asian writers

Two postgraduate students from the University of Huddersfield have started their own publishing company specifically for South Asian writers from Bradford and the North of England.

The company, Fox & Windmill was set up in March of 2021, by, Habiba Desai and Sara Razzaq, both 24, after five years in the making.  The publishing company is currently running a short story and poem coemption across all genres for Northern South Asians. They are also welcoming manuscript submissions for young adult (YA) and adult fiction, to be published next year.

Ms Desai and Ms Razzaq met at Bradford Literature Festival 2016 where they were both volunteering. Despite studying at the same university, at the same time, studying similar degrees, they never met each other before.  At the time, Ms Desai was studying English literature with creative writing and Ms Razzaq was studying just English literature.

The lightbulb idea for Ms Desai to open up a publishing company came after working at Bradford Literature Festival.

After chatting about writing and their favourite authors they became friends and naturally began to talk about the lack of South Asian representation in their favourite genres of young adult, fantasy, and sci-fi.

Wanting to change this themselves, Ms Desai and Ms Razzaq started making plans to open their publishing company to independently distribute authentic northern South Asian voices, without the need for a literary agent.

Ms Desai said: “I was studying English literature with creating writing and Sara was studying a straight English literature degree, but we met outside the course at the Bradford Literature Festival (BLF).”

Ms Razzaq added: “It was our love for reading and writing that brought us together, I think Habiba was writing a fantasy novel at the time, and I said, ‘you need to send it over to me, I would love to read it’, and then we started meeting up at university and our friendship grew from there.”

“I remember being at the office at the BLF and talking to Sara about the amazing books that they had at the office and the events planned, and I went on to work at the BLF full-time after graduation, and it was from there that we started talking about going into publishing as we realised there was a gap in the market”, says Ms Desai.

Opening the publishing company earlier this year, Ms Desai says it was “five years in the making”. She added: “We were questioning ‘should w do it? Should we not do it?’, we were quite scared about setting the company up, especially because being an indie publisher in Bradford is quite difficult compared to other, bigger publishers.”

Sara Raazzaq handles the social media and marketing side of the publishing business.

Co-founder of Yorkshire-based Bluemoose Books, a multi-award-winning independent publisher, Kevin Duffy, was instrumental in pushing the two literature graduates into setting up their company. Through Ms Desai meeting Mr Duffy at the BLF, he organically became the pairs mentor, championing their success.

Narrowing the gap of South Asian writers and characters in books is one of the reasons why Fox & Windmill was set up. Ms Razzaq says that the absence of South Asian characters in the types of books she would read growing up, she could not find characters that represented her, represented South Asian culture, or looked like her, and that is why she wants to remove the gap in publishing. “We know the stories are out there, it is just finding them and putting them out there. It has been important to both of us, in that sense.

“The stories will be universal stories, for everyone, but with people that look like us.”

Both women presently juggle studying postgraduate degrees, 9-5-day jobs, and running the company. Ms Razzaq works in digital marketing, skills that have been useful in marketing the publishing house, and Ms Desai working as a carer for adults with learning difficulties, which she describes as “incredibly rewarding”. Their plate is full, but for them, the publishing company “is more like a hobby than a job” and want to pour everything they have into it.

The various lockdowns in 2020 and into 2021 worked in the favour of Ms Desai and Ms Razzaq for Fox & Windmill. Time spent indoors gave them the ability to work on the company, setting goals, and creating social media presence.

Ms Razzaq said: “If it wasn’t for the pandemic and working from home, I don’t think we would have got the publishing company off the ground. Being at home and having that flexibility to talk to each other and bring the idea alive, it motivated us more.”

Ms Desai: “It is also interesting because during the pandemic, everyone was at home and reading more because there was not much else to do. Reading brought everyone together to escape the feeling of loneliness.

The two entrepreneurs bonded over their love of reading and writing. Image: Christian Hume.

“We decided because everyone was at home writing stories and poetry, we thought this would be the perfect time to find aspiring writers and get them published.”

The name, Fox & Windmill, is inspired by the great Yorkshire outdoors. Not knowing what to call the publishing house, Mr Duffy advised the two entrepreneurs to “not worry about the name” and that it would come naturally. On a walk in Penistone Moors, Ms Desai saw a fox on a weathervane. Forgetting the word for it, Ms Desai messaged Ms Razzaq that there was a “fox on a windmill” and they loved the name, and it stuck.

The company is currently fully funded by Ms Razzaq and Ms Desai. Ms Razzaq said: “We both decided to put everything in ourselves and go from there. We are looking to get funding from the Arts Council later down the line when we publish full manuscripts but for now, we are putting our head around the finances and learn along the journey.”

One of the key things Ms Desai and Ms Razzaq pride themselves on is that the publishing house will accept submissions from anyone, with or without a literary agent, something they think is a barrier to budding writers getting their work published.  Ms Desai said: What makes us a bit different from the rest is that we don’t have a literacy agent, and you don’t need one to submit a story to us.

“It is amazing that writers can come straight to us and submit their work without going through a middleman.”

Literacy agents can act as barriers to people who are not already inside the world of publishing. Major publishing houses most often don’t accept manuscripts from people without an agent, and it is hard to find an agent if you have not published a book before. For Ms Desai, she didn’t “know what an agent was and what they did until it was explained to me in school.”

The response to the company has been “amazing” says Ms Razzaq. “People from our community but people in general. It has been a validation, knowing what we are doing is worthwhile and will make a difference.”

Fox & Windmill have already got manuscripts in the pipeline ready to be published next year solely from South Asian writers. There is a variety of genres from mythology to young adult, to romance.

The publishing company are also sponsoring a 10-week creative writing course for South Asian people at Manningham library. The sessions started last weekend, but anyone is invited to join. The classes are run by English teacher and self-published author Nabeela Ahmed. The sessions run every Saturday 10am-12pm.

Submissions for short stories and poetry close on 30 October. For more information, visit here.

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