Freehand Books, Calgary AB

Navigation in Calgary’s core is hard. Here the city divides into quadrants and almost every street is a one way. So when you’re trying to find parking and just miss a spot, getting around to that spot again means travelling in a square, and travelling in a square means stopping at every red light, and stopping at every red light means I’m at risk of running late. Again.

Equally difficult is trying to parallel park a vehicle that doesn’t have power steering. Unfortunately a “peace-of-mind inspection” on my Escort came back with over $1500 worth of repairs so I ended up having to borrow the Ranger while more vehicle logistics were sorted out back home. The Ranger I once drove off a little cliff, you ask? Yeah. That’s the one—with a fresh windshield after its most recent incident with a moose.

The board room where Kelsey and I had our chat, and where Broadview is able to meet with the other Canadian branches via "space phone."

The board room where Kelsey and I had our chat, and where Broadview is able to meet with the other Canadian branches via “space phone.”

Thankfully this isn’t my first time hanging out with Kelsey Attard of Freehand Books, so my frantic “I can’t find parking” call isn’t my first impression. Kelsey and I go back to her time at the Writers’ Guild of Alberta and more recently to one of their youth programs where we each taught a class at a weekend writing retreat for teens.

Freehand Books is relatively new on the scene. It opened as the literary imprint of Broadview Press in 2007 with the broad mandate of publishing good Canadian literature. Broadview, an academic press, spans the country so I was curious as to why the imprint formed in Calgary and not in Ontario or Nova Scotia. Kelsey, new to Freehand as of 2012, thinks it was likely the impetus from the Calgary board members.

Freehand exploded onto the scene (as much as a literary press can in Canada) when their first book was nominated for the Giller. Many in the industry will also recall when the press downsized from two employees to one. Some thought the imprint was shutting down, and indeed that was a possibility, but the board believed in the press and in its potential. Freehand Books remained operational and continues to publish two books a season.

The Calgary Grain Exchange was Calgary's first skyscraper.

The Calgary Grain Exchange was Calgary’s first skyscraper.

Freehand Books is located in one of the most historical buildings in Calgary, Calgary’s Grain Exchange. The architecture of the space lends itself well to academic and literary publishing with its hardwood floors and giant windows. The only drawback, perhaps, is that without a proper kitchen area Kelsey has to wash her dishes in the bathroom sink. That and perhaps the extra sounds common to buildings that are probably haunted. At one point I swear I heard thumping from under the floor.

The view from Kelsey's desk. Too bad the weather was so misty!

The view from Kelsey’s desk. Too bad the weather was so misty!

As the sole staff member of Freehand, one might think it would be a lonely position, but she is not the only person in the office and feels a sense of camaraderie with her office mates. When it comes to Freehand Books, she is also not alone, as the board does converge to make editorial decisions. In fact, it was a board member who stepped up as volunteer acquisitions editor to help keep the press running. This is the reason Freehand Books no longer accepts unsolicited submissions. As a volunteer, there is only so much time to dedicate to reading. Manuscripts are therefore pitched by agents and a handful brought to the board for consideration. Kelsey sits with the board to assist in selection process.

Kelsey Attard at her desk.

Kelsey Attard at her desk.

Other facets of the business do fall directly onto Kelsey’s shoulders, and as publisher she’s able to make decisions quickly, whether it be about an event or, say, telling me the exciting news about a contract that was just signed and giving me the go-ahead to announce it on this blog.

Oh the suspense! But here’s “the scoop,” if you will.

Freehand Books has acquired the Canadian rights to publish Karyn Freedmen’s memoir, working title A Paris Night: A True Story of Rape and Recovery. The book is a brave exploration of the author’s rape, rape culture, and the steps she takes toward recovery. Obviously this is a huge book for the times and, of course, for the press.

More official details are bound to follow shortly from places like Quill & Quire, but there you have it. The scoop.

I asked Kelsey about whether she sees Freehand Books leaning in the direction of being a more social justice, politically inclined type of press. It’s a conversation that she is having with the board as Freehand continues to discover who it is as a publisher and what it aims to do.  There are titles in its list that explore other issues such as their graphic novel on mental illness.

“Looking back it is interesting when you can see a pattern emerging that you weren’t aware of at the time.” – Kelsey Attard

When it faced ceasing operations and was downsized, Freehand Books as an entity may have felt as though it was moving back into its parents’ basement, but with Broadview’s support, encouragement and belief, it’s clear that with each season Freehand Books is finding itself as a publisher and is prepared to keep making statements in and out of the book industry.

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