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‘This is a place that calls to a certain kind of spirit’
It took Beth Follett four years to make the final transition to becoming a full-time Newfoundland resident. The decision to relocate her established literary publishing company Pedlar Press to the island took some consideration.
“What I loved was the geology. The rocks, the cliffs, the ocean. This is what drew me here,” says Follett.
“The bigger impression was going across the isthmus and the barrens. That landscape seemed so unique. I had travelled a lot, but I had never seen anything like that. And it just really called to me.”
Follett first came to Newfoundland in 2005 to visit author Stan Dragland, whose book she was editing.
“I made the move in 2012. Stan and I got married in 2007, but we continued to travel back and forth to see one another. I was very concerned about moving my publishing company here.”
Pedlar Press occupies the niche of a literary publisher in Canada, and with a roster of writers and an established process for creating and publishing works for readers across Canada, moving from Toronto and settling somewhere might have proven disruptive.
“In the industry, we distinguish between commercial publishing and literary publishing. Pedlar is a literary publisher — I publish for a very small audience across Canada. Readers of poetry, experimental fiction, the occasional book of essays, literary essays and the occasional art book,” says Follett.
“It’s a long tradition that would include people like Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce. That’s the tradition that Pedlar is a part of.”
Over time, the question of whether Pedlar could be based in Newfoundland was answered by seeing more and more of the island.
“A lot of the decision had to do with the fact that Stan and I drove around the island quite a bit,” says Follett.
She took in the March Hare, the celebrated literary festival that ran for 32 years until 2018, and visited Fogo several times. She and Dragland bought a summer house on the Bonavista Peninsula.
“I could see in Newfoundland there were a lot of non-traditional outlets for books. Maybe there weren’t booksellers, but there were art galleries popping up. I could just find more and more places that would take them when I travelled around,” says Follett.
“I really believe in face-to-face encounters as a businesswoman. I’m looking for people who are readers and love to read.”
For first-time readers of Pedlar Press works, Follett recommends the Winterset-winning novel "Duke" by Newfoundland author Sarah Tilley. For Follett, the novel is ground-breaking.
“It’s a Newfoundland story and very literary story,” says Follett. “I just know people love that book. Sarah just draws you in. There’s many reasons she won that award that year. It’s exactly a Pedlar book that anyone can read and be blown away by.”
In "Duke," a young Newfoundlander goes off to Alaska to seek his fortune in the gold rush. Follett calls the story “riveting.”
Follett has not only been busy publishing and editing the works of other writers; her first novel, to be published by Breakwater Books, is due out next spring. And she is completing her full first-length poetry book.
“I think this is a place that calls to a certain kind of spirit. Young people are coming here who have that kind of spirit. They need inspiration. I think Newfoundland attracts people who have a wild spirit, and some courage. You have to take a pretty big leap of faith to come,” she says.
“Newfoundland has been an isolated island with isolated communities on the island. And it is so amazing to go from peninsula to peninsula, area to area, and they’re so very different. And I didn’t find that in Ontario, I didn’t find in Manitoba or Alberta. There’s something very magical about this place.”