Armley Press – A Bad Winter

Armley Press, the ‘punk publisher’ set up by How Leeds Changed the World author Mick McCann, has just brought out its first new book in six months.

The novel, A Bad Winter by Samantha Priestley, is set among the wild hills of Derbyshire and tells the story of a crime of passion in the 18th century that sends ghostly echoes down to the present day.

‘Sam’s writing reminds me of D.H. Lawrence in its earthiness and its sympathetic connection with the land,’ said Armley Press’s editor, John Lake, who, like Mick McCann, grew up in East Leeds. ‘A Bad Winter has its raunchy episodes too, but there’s a kind of Wuthering Heights feel to it. High passion and doomed romance.’

Flitting between different centuries, the narrative features a gallery of characters, past and present, caught in a cycle of lust, jealousy, murder and revenge, while also telling an intimate and powerful tale of personal lives in freefall.

A Bad Winter is Samantha Priestley’s second book with Armley Press, after 2015’s Reliability of Rope, for which described the author as ‘a dramatic writer of immense talent’. They weren’t wrong. Her short stories had previously won the H.E. Bates Prize and the Tacchi-Morris Arts Centre Prize.

Armley Press has recently calmed down a bit since it hectically unleashed ten books on the world in an eighteen-month period from 2015 to 2016. Its only previous book this year is Nathan O’Hagan’s superb Liverpool-set thriller Out of the City, published in February, and its next will not be until January 2018. So what’s going on?

‘The few people involved in running it do it for love rather than money, so it has to take its place beside the other projects in our lives. Putting out just two or three books a year means we have to be more judicious in the selection process, but it gives us more time to do the best we can for each author. We like our writers, we like meeting them, getting them involved, even hanging out with them socially. We call them the Armley Press gang.’

Since rebooting the venture two years ago, head man Mick McCann has become a frequent guest on Made in Leeds TV and has fronted a documentary on Leeds for French and German television. Though still a modest independent publisher, Armley Press’s profile has been raised by strong receptions for novels particularly by Nathan O’Hagan and Horsforth writer Mark Connors, as well as by the support of magazines like ELM.

Lake, the editor, is already getting excited about their next release, slated for early in the new year. ‘It’s a collection of brilliant stories by Michael Yates, who is an ex-professional journalist from Wakefield. They are really strong and deserve a good audience. We’ve already had some great comments about them from some big names, which is exciting.’

Among the names Lake mentions are multi-award-winning novelist Jim Crace, who called the tales ‘stylish, spirited, wise, playful and entirely compelling’, and renowned poet Helen Shay, who said that the collection ‘lifts the genre to a new level’.


‘Most books we get sent have something good or interesting about them, so we try to be encouraging to those authors we have to reject, because we know the size of the commitment required to actually finish writing an entire book. Rejection is dispiriting, but every writer can be better if they are hell bent on sticking at it. We can only afford to take on a very few, so it has to be those we feel confident of and comfortable with.

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