Douglas Suttle, tell us a bit about your childhood and where you grew up.
I grew up in a leafy suburb of south London before heading up to Nottingham for my teenage years.
Were your parents great readers? What were the books that made you fall in love with reading?
My parents read a lot. They always have. I remember my father reading The Lord of the Rings and The Little Grey Men Go Down the Bright Stream to me as bedtime stories when I was a child. I remember going to sleep dreaming of Shadowfax and Ring Wraiths! I was also surrounded by Penguin Ladybird books about history and explorers, etc. I then quickly moved into reading whatever I could get my hands on. I think I was a pretty avid reader growing up. And that’s thanks to my parents.
A journalist, translator and editor . . . how did you end up in Catalonia?
Long story! I was looking for a change and had been travelling around Latin America for a while but was keen to try out something a little closer to the UK. I ended up in Catalonia. It’s got it all – mountains, an amazing coastline, wonderful cities, and a rich, varied culture.
Why the attraction to Catalan language and literature in particular?
Well, I started to pick up Catalan almost as soon as I arrived. It’s important to learn at least some elements of the language wherever you go, but with Catalan it was something more. It’s a beautiful language that, on a very basic level, is a mixture of Spanish and French. The sounds, the turns of phrase, everything appealed to me. And it wasn’t long before I found myself reading in the language.
Bearing in mind that Catalan is a language and not a dialect, what are the key similarities and differences between Spanish and Catalan?
No, it most certainly isn’t a dialect! That would be like saying Spanish is a dialect of Italian! There are, of course, plenty of words that are the same or at least very similar, but one might say that about all of the romance languages. The grammar, however, is quite different, especially things like the past simple, which actually makes very little sense when you think about it! But then that’s the joy of different languages.
Catalonia is an autonomous community within the Kingdom of Spain, with a distinct history dating back almost 1000 years; there are parallels with Scotland in terms of wanting to be totally independent. How did Franco’s dictatorship after the Spanish Civil War affect Catalan language and literature?
Well, it was catastrophic. There’s this weird obsession in certain spheres of Spanish society of stamping out any kind of regional differences and trying to make everything the same across the board, as if everyone speaking, thinking and doing the same is somehow a good thing. It just seems very illogical to me. Variety is the spice of life, etc., and I just think that all of these differences should be celebrated rather than shunned. So, imagine that one day you wake up and the government told you that you couldn’t speak the language that you and your family spoke and had spoken for hundreds of years, that any mention of this language would be illegal, that even speaking this language, this thing, this act that defines you as a person, is banned and wouldn’t be taught to your children in schools. That’s what happened. And it’s just incredibly sad that people would want to do that. But there you go. That’s fascism. And it hasn’t gone away.
What is the inspiration for the name Fum d’Estampa Press? How is your publishing company truly representative of globalisation?
The name comes from part of the old printing process. It’s this carbonised dust that was used in the old presses. In terms of globalisation, as you know, FdE specialises in translated literature. As such, we work with writers from one part of the world and translators from another, printing in another, and distributing everywhere we can. So yeah, I think that’s pretty representative of a globalised marketplace. That said, I’m keen to avoid the pitfalls of a globalised marketplace, the loss of local jobs, etc. So we make sure we work locally, and support local businesses whenever we can.
Fiction or nonfiction? Tell us about the first titles and how they are representative of your vision as a publisher.
I just want to publish beautifully written, thought-provoking titles that might one change the world and bring about peace, equality, and harmony for all humanity. If they do that, then fiction and non-fiction work for me.
What books are you yourself translating at the moment which will be published in the coming year or two?
I’ve been translating a philosophical essay by Josep Maria Esquirol called The Intimate Resistance. It’s basically an essay about how we can discover ourselves by looking inwards and focusing on being together and sharing intimate moments with each other. It’s a fantastic book that has really made me change the way I look at things. The other book I’m working on is an experimental title called Summa Kaòtica. It’s a cult classic here in Catalonia and I’m hoping that it’s experimental, highly stylised look at the early twentieth century will be of interest to English language readers who enjoy writers such as Pound and Joyce.
Barcelona is famous for the arts and literature. Are there more independent publishing houses, or big conglomerates operating, and are literary agents as important as in the Anglophone world?
Catalonia in general is full of publishing houses and cultural institutions. It’s one of the things that makes it stand out for me. I wouldn’t say that I’m really in there in terms of the publishing community here, but I’m meeting more and more people all the time and I have to say, it all seems very pleasant. Literary agents are there, of course, and they’re pretty useful people to know.
Does the regional government support the publishing industry – for example by giving grants, or setting fixed book prices, or by not charging VAT on eBooks? How important is funding?
Yes, there are grants available through the government funded Institut Ramon Llull. As with most indie presses, we reply heavily on these to be able to carry on doing what we’re doing.
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 in your view?
Well, apart from the fact that Brexit is an unmitigated disaster that will negatively affect generations of UK and European citizens, that the public abused their right to vote by blindly, unquestioningly, believing the nonsense spouted by those leading the push to leave, and that those apparently in charge have somehow managed to make a horrible situation even worse through utter incompetence and criminal stupidity, I think that we will see the main consequences of Brexit in a few years as cultural exchanges and dialogue between peoples dry up, leading to distrust and misunderstanding. Literature in translation will be ever more important.
Your views on the importance of technology and social media in the post-pandemic period?
I can’t say I particularly like any of it, but yes, I accept its importance. It’s a great way to quickly and easily connect with readers, critics, etc. Online events are also important.
If you could go anywhere in time for one day, where would you go and why?
This is tricky question to answer. Having all of time to choose from makes the choice rather complicated. I originally thought about perhaps going to see some big historic battle, but then I don’t fancy seeing all the blood and guts. Likewise with Christ’s crucifixion. I think it would make my stomach turn. After mulling it over for a few days, I think I would perhaps like to listen to the first telling of Beowulf; you know, cramped around a fire in a mead hall on a winter’s night. If I were immune to everything, I think a quick visit to the Hadean Era of earth’s history might be quite interesting, too.
For what faults do have you most tolerance?
I’d like to think I’m pretty tolerant in terms of most things, but I suppose if there’s one thing I’m not a big fan of, it’s people telling lies. I’d also say that I’m above average tolerant of people being late. Mostly because I’m often late.
Your heroes/heroines in literature, and in real life?
I’m not a big fan of this idea of having heroes. Nothing is black and white and having a hero is a bit like idolising people, which I think is perhaps a little dangerous. Everyone has their faults, and nobody is perfect. I’d say that people I look up to in real life are my parents, my sisters, and my partner Berta. They all inspire me to be a better person and are fantastic in different ways. In terms of literature, perhaps Laura Vidal from Forty Lost Years. She’s a great character. I also quite like George Smiley. Honestly, I don’t really know; there are too many of them.
Your favourite literary journals?
I’m not sure you can really call it a literary journal as it’s so much more than that, but I pick up a copy of The White Review whenever I can, and of course I subscribe to the London Review of Books, though I don’t always finish it… There are some Catalan language ones that I enjoy reading when I have a moment. Els marges, for example.
Your bedside reading?
I can’t read in bed. I just fall asleep. As the book opens, my eyes close. That said, if sofa-side reading also counts, then I’m currently re-reading a book by Anna Dodas, along with Esquirol’s latest, and the Fitzcarraldo title Rein Gold, which in theory is right up my street, but is proving a testing read. I always have a few books on the go at the same time, which perhaps isn’t the best idea.
Your five favourite feature films?
I don’t really know… Interstellar is definitely up there, as is The Tree of Life. I also like Le Grand Bleu, and find myself watching Once Upon a Time in the West whenever I can. But that might really just be for the music. And the last one… I’m not sure. Perhaps Master and Commander: Far Side of the World? Not sure though.
Who would be in your dream book club?
I wouldn’t mind reading a few books with Einstein. See what he thinks of them. I also think Sylvia Plath would be an interesting person to discuss one or two things with.
Be Excellent to Each Other and Party On.
Founded by Douglas Suttle in 2019, Fum d’Estampa Press publishes award-winning Catalan language poetry, fiction and essays in English translation. In this interview, Doug tells us what inspired him and why he is attracted to Catalan language and literature in particular, and what is so special about Barcelona.
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