Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
No, neither. My parents are more interested in the business side of things – as in, “does it make money?” I’m running out of synonyms for “not yet”! Instead, I have an incredible English teacher to thank for my impecuniosity. He went through the entirety of Paradise Lost with me, line-by-line.
Did you want to work in the publishing industry from the start?
I think so, although it took me a while to realise it. I went around the houses first – journalism, academia, writing – but found that publishing was a good fit for my temperament.
Has your vision from when you started Little Island Press two years ago changed?
In that we now publish fiction and essays – yes, in a big way. I started Little Island with only poetry in mind, but could not pass on some incredible projects, and our purview gradually widened. Yet, in another, more fundamental way, nothing has changed. We’re still committed to bringing together the best in literary innovation, design and production. “Real books,” as some have commented.
How do you balance originality and profitability?
What was the book that made you fall in love with reading?
The first book I was really conscious of reading was Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell in the school library, aged fifteen (in the original 1945 Alvin Lustig-designed New Directions edition, I later learned). That was a rude awakening for me.
What makes you decide to publish one writer, and not another?
The first sentence. It is the embryo of the entire book. Everything that is unique about a book should be there, like a genetic code, in that opening statement; the rest is exposition.
Technology and the rise of Kindle and iPads etc have revolutionised the publishing industry. How well have publishers adapted to industry changes?
Publishing seems to be caught between revolution and reversion: a tricky time. Some of the more absolutist predictions have fallen foul, at least for now. A lot of publishers are still wary, however; too much change and we disappear entirely! Little Island’s response to that “threat” has been to emphasise those elements of the book that cannot be reproduced online: the book as the three-dimensional object.
Do you enjoy reading ebooks? Will the physical book die away eventually?
I see the appeal but don’t read them myself. The ebook has certainly changed the way many consume genre fiction: the furious page-turning of crime thriller readers is a precursor of the digital “swipe”. Other styles – literary fiction, poetry – favour a different type of reader, what the American writer Gary Lutz called the “page-hugger”.
Your views on marketing and distribution? And on social media?
We have a fantastic and hugely supportive sales team, Compass IPS, and a very talented distributor, NBN International. In spite of this, there’s a limit to what these assets can do to turn a very powerful tide that favours larger, more industrialised publishing. Word of mouth and social media, however, can be great levelers among the different sizes and styles of publishing. If a work has that contagious quality, as long as it gets a few nudges by the right people in the right direction, it can really take off – as David Hayden’s Darker With the Lights On did – no matter the size of publisher. It’s useful to remember that non-traditional publishing – as practised by small, independent presses – demands non-traditional marketing and routes to market. Chucking money at a small press title will not guarantee its success, which is refreshing I suppose.
How important is funding for independent publishers?
I don’t have much experience of this, but I gather that some of our best literary publishers (And Other Stories, Fitzcarraldo etc.) receive some sort of external support.
Your favourite literary journals?
If it’s not too shameless of me, I will plug Egress: New Openings in Literary Art, a new journal of fiction, essays and art published by Little Island later this month. We felt there was a sufficient gap in the market for something like Egress in the UK – an avowedly experimental journal, with some of the gumption of the recent little mags of the US, NOON and New York Tyrant. There is, of course, a thriving journal culture in the UK, supporting greats like Granta, The White Review, gorse and Hotel.
Nearly 80% of the UK’s publishing industry wanted to remain in the EU. In the wake of Brexit, what are the implications for book publishing and translation in your view?
The implications for Little Island were immediate. Before the EU referendum, we printed our books in Italy. The morning following the vote, this was no longer economically feasible. We’ve relocated our production to TJ International in Padstow. Hopefully, the homecoming of manufacturing like this – obviously, in a much wider sense – will be good for UK industry. As far as translation goes, I don’t think we need transnational government treaties to tell us what, or who, to read. But, again, that is probably quite naive.
Your favourite qualities in a person?
The propensity for self-effacement.
For what faults do have you most tolerance?
Your chief characteristic?
Your chief fault?
Your bedside reading?
André Gide’s Journals are a great source of companionship, and the procrastinator’s bible; “I sit here, sometimes all morning, unable to do anything, tormented by the desire to do everything . . . I have twenty books before me, every one of them begun. You will laugh when I tell you that I cannot read a single one of them simply because I want so much to read them all.”
You are organizing a literary dinner party. Which five writers, dead or alive, would you invite?
John Milton: he would say grace, and start the first argument;
Grace Paley: to set John right;
Yvor Winters: to scrutinize the appetizers in terms of their metrical arrangement;
Marianne Moore: to throw a baseball at Yvor;
John Gray: to preside over the evening and, as the only living member, to help explain some of the strangeness of our times to the other guests.
Your heroes and heroines in fiction?
Oedipa Maas, for whom everything was significant.
Your heroes and heroines in real life?
Chandler Bing. He’s real, isn’t he?
Who would be in your dream book club?
I’d invite my close friends Chardonnay and Tom Collins.
You live and you live . . .
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