Dana Mills on Burgling Against Capitalism

Dana Mills on Burgling Against Capitalism

Dana Mills is an author, dancer and activist. Her most recent book is Rosa Luxemburg (2020), following the success of Dance and Politics: Moving Beyond Boundaries (2016).

It’s especially depressing to be bombarded with adverts for Black Friday this year (which has deeply racist origins, and a deeply oppressive contemporary presence; no ‘bargain’ you buy online does not come at the price of someone else’s reduced costs for labour). It’s also just plain bizarre. Perhaps especially strange are adverts for perfumes showing good looking and made-up people escaping to exotic places wearing perfume. Considering we are looking at a winter of indoor traipsing in sweatpants at best, lockdowns at worst, it’s strange to think this would appeal to anyone. Yet capitalism is a death cult and built on unattainable fantasies.

Confession: I like giving presents. A lot! I think this is a legacy from my late father. I especially like finding things people will like and surprising them with those gifts. However, I was raised to focus on either home-made or very low-key gifts. My mother still says the best gift I ever gave her is a potato peeler I got her when I was eight. I turn 39 next week and she still uses that peeler.

It’s hard for me, lately, not to give gifts that aren’t books, because books give you fantasy that you can, unlike those perfume ads, live. Books give a narrative outside of your ordinary life, a story of someone else who you’ll never know. I’ve noticed I culled from my networks all those who say ‘I don’t have time to read’ (who, at the same time, will be the people who post three times a day on their Facebook/other social media accounts). So, for the past few years, all of my gifts have been books. While the publishing industry is far from being independent of the ills of capitalism, it does have many small independent publishers who try to resist the monopoly of the large, exploitative ones.

Perhaps this year, more than ever, it is easy not to shop around Black Friday, to realise that we really didn’t need that extra dress or pair of trousers. We don’t need three of everything we own. We don’t need ‘self care’ products that give us an hour of a bath with no expansion of horizons.

What we need is a way to expand our imaginaries when we are locked up. We need a way to sustain communities and consecutiveness. We need to remember and remind that, even if we can’t be physically together, we can be there for each other and provide a narrative and a conversation and a different point of view. No lip gloss or aftershave can do that.

And so, in the spirit of gifting a story and a listening ear, those people who I care about and have been consistently sustaining me this year will receive this festive period Willa Cather’s classic The Burglar’s Christmas, from which proceeds go to the Three Peas, a charity doing work on Lesvos for refugees. Unlike big industrial ‘charities’, this is a collective doing work on the ground, and so I’ll be able to give something to several people. This new press, Renard Press, publishes cutting edge and classic books, and is worthy of your attention generally. This holiday season give community, give expansion of thought – don’t give gifts that wither away and are grounded in fake capitalist fantasy.

(I’ve conceded that I’ll never transcend that potato peeler for my mother).


Renard Kicks off Playscripts Series with Emma Zadow

Renard Kicks off Playscripts Series with Emma Zadow

Renard Press is thrilled to announce that it has acquired the haunting debut play by Emma Zadow, Fridge.

Set against the background of rural Norfolk, Fridge centres on the dysfunctional relationship between two sisters.

Alice hasn’t been home for a while – for seven years, in fact. But when her little sister Lo tries to take her own life, she has to return to the life she left behind. The change of scenery from London to Norfolk proves quite the culture shock, however, and Alice has to confront what she left behind all those years ago.

The sisters’ relationship hasn’t evolved in Alice’s absence, and when she steps through the door she’s plunged back into the same world she escaped from. Set against Norfolk’s bleak landscapes, but masquerading as childhood nostalgia, Fridge is an all-too-familiar exploration of the broken promises of youth, and a bitter exposition of a generation left behind.

Emma is an actor, playwright and screenwriter from Norfolk. She trained at Rose Bruford College, and her plays have been performed at the Arcola, the Old Red Lion Theatre, Camden Fringe Festival, Norwich Arts Centre and Pleasance Theatre. Emma is an alumni playwright from the Soho Theatre Writers Lab, and she was shortlisted for the ETPEP Award and Tony Craze Award.

Black History Month 2020 – A Note on Phillis Wheatley

Black History Month 2020 – A Note on Phillis Wheatley

Black History Month is a time to look backwards, but also forwards to future possibilities. Against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter protests this year, we felt it was important that Renard included classics celebrating black history in its list, thereby – as we promised when we set up – fleshing out the literary classics canon with underrepresented voices from across the globe. We are thrilled to be able to celebrate Black History Month with the publication of two ‘firsts’: the first known work by an African American author, and the first book of poetry ever published by an African American writer.

You can find out more about Black History Month here, and you can find Renard Press’ Black History Month collection here.

A Note on Phillis Wheatley

from the Publisher’s ‘Note to the Public’ included in Phillis Wheatley.

The frontispiece from the original edition of the poems

In 1761, a slave ship called The Phillis docked at Boston harbour, having made a slow and tortuous journey from West Africa to the British colony of Massachusetts. On this boat was a seven-year-old girl, who was sold to the well-to-do Wheatley family in Boston; the family’s slaves were growing old, and they wanted a young domestic slave to keep them company in their dotage. Thus Phillis Wheatley was born – renamed after the ship which tore her from her family and the family whose property she became.

Phillis was adored by the family – Susanna Wheatley, in particular – and they helped her to learn English and allowed her to study the classics. Just like Terence, the Roman playwright she writes of, Phillis was brought as a slave to a strange city far from home, and showed such a natural aptitude for language that her owners granted her her freedom.

As related in the 1834 memoir republished in this volume, by Benjamin Bussey Thatcher (1809–40), an outspoken proponent of antislavery, the road to publication was not straight, and early biographers point out that much of Phillis’ poetry may be unknown, since she had such an appetite for writing that she would even do so with chalk on the Wheatleys’ walls, not having the paper to commit her words to. Once her talent became known and the Wheatleys began to encourage her writing, she was met with real disbelief.

In 1772, she was interrogated by a panel and forced to defend the ownership of her own words, since many believed that it was an impossible that she, an African-American slave, could write poetry of such high quality. This view was so prevalent, so acceptable, that the first publisher prefaced the volume of poetry with an ‘attestation from the most respectable characters in Boston, that none might have the least ground for disputing’ their authorship.

In publishing this volume in 2020, moving the attestation of authorship to the end of the book, along with the ‘letter from her master’ and condescending note from the original publishers of the memoir and the poems, it is this Publisher’s fervent hope that the twenty-first-century reader can discover Phillis Wheatley as she should always have been read – as a poet, not property.



Phillis Wheatley

Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral
and A Memoir of Phillis Wheatley, a Native African and a Slave

128pp paperback
ISBN: 9781913724146
£8.99 £6.29

In 1773, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral became the first book of poetry by an African-American author to be published. At the tender age of seven, Phillis had been brought to Massachusetts as a slave and sold to the well-to-do Wheatley family. There, she threw herself into education, and soon she was devouring the classics and writing verse with whatever she had to hand – odes in chalk on the walls of the house. Once her talent became known, there was uproar, and in 1772 she was interrogated by a panel of ‘the most respectable characters in Boston’ and forced to defend the ownership of her own words, since many believed that it was an impossible that she, an African-American slave, could write poetry…

Renard Acquires Iain Hood’s Debut Novel This Good Book

Renard Acquires Iain Hood’s Debut Novel This Good Book

Renard Press is thrilled to announce that it has made its first acquisition: Iain Hood’s debut novel, This Good Book.

As reported in the Bookseller, the Publisher said: ‘I’m absolutely delighted to be kicking off Renard’s contemporary fiction list with This Good Book – it’s beautifully written, compelling and shocking, and had me hooked from beginning to end. That is, of course, what all editors are looking for when they read submissions, and I’m confident that this very good book will elicit a smile from even the most jaded reader, and will lay the perfect foundation stone for Renard’s fiction list.’

Welcome to Renard Press, a new indie publisher

Welcome to Renard Press, a new indie publisher

Welcome to RENARD PRESS – a brand-new independent publisher, launched in June 2020. Covering both classic and contemporary titles, Renard publishes fiction and non-fiction, theatre and poetry; the emphasis is on good writing, properly edited, and our books can be found in convenient modern formats – in a world increasingly lived online – as well as in beautifully designed and well-produced editions. We’ve outlined what we stand for in our About section, and you can find out more about us there!



I’m thrilled to be writing this note – Renard Press is, as we boldly claim, a ‘fresh face’ in independent publishing, for we’re launching this month; we are positively bristling with excitement, and we can’t wait to publish our first few books (more news on that front to follow, so keep an eye on our News section). At the same time, the publishing house doesn’t feel completely ‘new’, in that it is the culmination of years of experience and hard work, and the foundations weren’t laid overnight.

I’ve always felt that independent publishers are only as strong as those supporting them – and for this reason, I look forward to joining forces with many other fresh faces, as well as some wrinklier ones, over the coming years. For the same reason, I owe a debt of gratitude to an army of supporters already, for help and advice in many shapes and sizes – so here’s to Libby Dady, Matt Leonard, Ruth Irwin, Clem Koenig, Rach Irwin, Robert Harris, Finn Dady, Beech, Freya Gallagher-Jones, Emily John, Monica Meira, Miriam Halahmy, Bee Rowlatt, Gary Kahn, Dana Mills, Christian Müller, Debbie Gillespie, Mary Bisbee-Beek, the Leonards, the Moneys, the Hayneses, the Gallenzi-Minervinis – and my first mentor in publishing, Stephen Hayward.

So on to the books: by way of a nod to one of the greatest pioneers in independent publishing – and one of my heroes – we’ll be starting off our classics list with A Room of One’s Own, which is a profound work I think everyone should read at some point. From there on, we’ve got the next eleven titles picked out, which consist of some lesser-known works by literary giants, as well as some by undeservedly forgotten authors.

On the literary note, we’re also thrilled to be able to launch a subscription service – where you can sign up to receive a copy of every book we publish, in advance of the publication date. We’ll throw in a few goodies, too, to sweeten the deal, so we hope we can tempt you there!

In an effort to be the change we want to see in publishing, we’re keeping the gender balance of our authors… well, balanced – and to demonstrate our commitment to this, we’ve set up a counter to make sure we’re on track. Renard is proud to be a queer-led publisher, and we look forward to fleshing out the literary classics canon – and to building on it with newly commissioned titles – with underrepresented voices from across the globe.

– Will Dady, June 2020

Hannah Snell, the Female Soldier: A Tale of Two Voices

Hannah Snell, the Female Soldier: A Tale of Two Voices

Relatively little is known about Hannah Snell; the only reason we know anything at all about her is down to the stories she told about her time as a soldier – most notably to Robert Walker, a London publisher, who published her account, The Female Soldier – or, to use its full title:

The Surprising Life and Adventures of Hannah Snell, Born in the City of Worcester, Who took upon herself the Name of James Gray; and, being deserted by her Husband, put on Mens Apparel, and travelled to Coventry in quest of him, where she enlisted in Col. Guise’s Regiment of Foot, and marched with that Regiment to Carlisle, in the Time of the Rebellion in Scotland; shewing what happened to her in that City, and her Desertion from that Regiment.

A Full and True Account of her enlisting afterwards into Fraser’s Regiment of Marines, then at Portsmouth; and her being draughted out of that Regiment, and sent on board the Swallow Sloop of War, on of Admiral Boscawen’s Squadron, then bound for the East-Indies. With the many Vicissitudes of Fortune she met with during that Expedition, particularly at the Siege of Pondicherry, where she received Twelve Wounds. Likewise, the surprising Accident by which she came to hear of the Death of her faithless Husband, whom she went in quest of.

The Whole Containing
The most surprising Incidents that have happened in any preceeding Age; wherein is laid open all her Adventures, in Mens Cloaths, for near five Years, without her Sex being ever discovered.

We know that Snell was born in 1723. In 1744, four years after she moved to London, she married James Summs, a Dutch seaman. She soon became pregnant, and Summs abandoned her. Susannah, their daughter, died a year after she was born.

Snell borrowed a suit from her brother-in-law, James Gray, and signed up as a soldier, using his name, so that she could search for her husband. She joined John Guise’s regiment in the army of the Duke of Cumberland. She came under the Sergeant’s lash, and deserted, moving to Portsmouth. There, she boarded the Swallow and sailed to Lisbon, and on to India.

There, she was sent to capture the French colony of Pondicherry. She fought in various battles, and sustained injury to her legs eleven times. She was also shot in the groin, and to avoid having to reveal her sex, she enlisted the help of a local woman to take out the bullet, rather than going to the regimental surgeon. In 1750, she returned to London.

It is then that she sold her story to the London publisher Robert Walker, who published the tale. Modern editions have attributed the authorship to Walker, but since the original text was printed with the message, ‘AS this Treatise was done in a Hurry from Hannah Snell’s own Mouth, and directly committed to the Press, occasioned by the Impatience of the Town to have it published, it is not doubted but that such Part of it as appears somewhat incorrect, will be candidly overlook’d, that, being made up in the Veracity and Fulness of her surprising Adventures; the like not to be met with in the Records of Time,’ it seems clear that Walker’s role was more that of a ghost-writer – so it seems safe to assume that the text is a tale of one voice, after all.