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Publisher spotlight: Polaris Publishing

Across 2022, the Year of Stories, we are spotlighting Publishing Scotland members, who will share their own story in their own words. Get to know Polaris Publishing, who specialise in sports publishing, but have expanded into different areas in recent years.

What’s your story?

We started back in 2011 as a bit of a side project for managing director Peter Burns, who at the time was working as the editor for Arena Sport, which is part of Birlinn Ltd. Peter had authored an oral history of Scottish rugby in 2010, published by Birlinn, and he was keen to expand the series. Having piqued the interest of some of the biggest names in UK rugby journalism to come on board, budget restraints prevented the publisher from taking the project forward, so Peter set up Polaris and did it himself. The first book, Behind the Lions: Playing Rugby for the British & Irish Lions, has sold over 30,000 copies across a number of editions and become the go-to history of the Lions. The series in general has won multiple awards and sold in excess of 90,000 copies.

Output at Polaris was quite slow for the first few years while Peter continued running Arena Sport, but he reduced his days in 2016 to commit more time to Polaris and then went full time in 2018. Polaris publishes around twenty to thirty titles a year and was described at the 2021 British Sports Book Awards as ‘a rising power in British sports publishing’. A number of our titles have won awards and become best-sellers. We publish books on a range of sports, although rugby remains a core subject, and we have branched out into children’s books as well as popular culture, focussing on movies and music.

Tell us about some of your key stories.

Behind the Lions: Playing Rugby for the British & Irish Lions – this is where it all began. Based on deep archive research and hundreds of interviews with living Lions, this book tells the story of the famous touring team primarily in the players’ words. The idea throughout all the books in the series to create a fantasy round-table discussion where the players talk through their experiences in a conversational style, the narrative bouncing from one player to the next and then back again, with the authors providing the odd piece of bridging material. A colossal amount of work goes into each book, but they are so rewarding to put together. Who wouldn’t want to sit down for hours on end with their sporting heroes to discuss the greatest days (and sometimes the not-so-great days) of their lives?

Thunderbook: The World of Bond According the Smershpod – this was out first foray outside of sport and set in motion our popular culture list. Having been recommended Smershpod a few years ago, it became obvious very quickly that a brilliant book could emerge from each episode – in which host John Rain talks through the plot of each Bond film with a guest. It has proved a huge success and was a joy to work on – it’s always a nice feeling to be roaring in laughter as you make your way through a copy edit or a proof-read. 

Chasing a Rugby Dream: Kick-Off – this is the first in a series of rugby children’s books by former Wales international and British & Irish Lion, James Hook (written with David Brayley). It was our first foray into children’s books and has proved to be a huge success, selling extremely well and winning children’s book of the year at the 2021 Telegraph Sports Book Awards.

This is Your Everest: The Lions, the Springboks and the Epic Tour of 1997 – a personal highlight this one as it is co-authored by MD Peter Burns with Tom English, the multiple award-winning writer and broadcaster. It was a Covid-19 lockdown project that helped stem much of the boredom of the restrictions; not only was it great fun to write, but the critical acclaim has been wonderful and it was shortlisted for the prestigious William Hill Sports Book of the Year in 2021.

What draws you to a story? What makes a good story? 

I think it always comes down to the characters involved and the quality of the writing. That’s the big draw. Against-the-odds achievements are always a great element as well, but it really comes down to great writing and interesting characters.

What stories should we look forward to or check out this year?

We are hugely excited (naturally!) about our entire list of new titles, but if we have to select a short list, we’d go with:

Unveiling Jazbaa: A History of Pakistan Women’s Cricket by Aayush Puthran – an astonishing look at the trials and tribulations of the women who have played cricket for Pakistan, the huge obstacles that have overcome and continue to face in order to play.

Tor! The Story of German Football by Uli Hesse. This is a revised and updated new edition of one of the greatest football books ever written and a former winner of the William Hill Award. We are absolutely thrilled to bring this book onto our list.

Silver Invicta: Journeys with a Fly Fisher by Tom Harland. This is the first fishing book to make it onto our list, so we are very excited to see how it goes. The writing is just fantastic and was the instant draw when we first started reading the submission. We are sure that Tom Harland is going to have a long and successful career as an author.

World in their Hands: How an Inspirational Group of Friends Put On the First Women’s Rugby World Cup by Martyn Thomas. The Women’s World Cup is being held in New Zealand this autumn and this book, published ahead of the tournament in September, looks back to the amazing group of friends who had the inspiration to come up with the concept and the grit and determination to see it become a reality, setting in motion what has now become a major global showpiece. 

Learn more about Polaris Publishing at @polaris_books and