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Interview | François von Hurter, Bitter Lemon Press | Indie Publisher of the Week

Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
With a Greek mother and a Swiss/Austrian father, the bookshelves at home were the reflection of a mad continent. Goethe, Mann, Holderlin rubbing shoulders with Leigh Fermor, Kavafy and Seferis. And many biographies of T.E. Lawrence.

Did you want to work in the publishing industry from the start?
Loved reading ‘from the start’ but publishing is a second career, begun at age 57.

Has your vision from when you started Bitter Lemon Press 13 years ago changed?
We entered the water gingerly, with a narrow focus on translated crime fiction. We have since diversified into novels written in English, both literary crime and general literary fiction, and also added a non-fiction imprint called Wilmington Square Books. WSB publishes thoughtful and engaging books about culture and society.

How do you balance originality and profitability publishing general-interest trade rather than educational or technical books?
We try to publish only books we would recommend to close friends and hope the general public agrees with our choices. We live in hope and are sometimes disappointed, but the rewards are not just financial.

Your views on writing?
There is a literary hierarchy I think. At the top poetry, then short stories and, at the bottom, novels. We have chosen to publish novels, but they must contain some of the economy and rhythm of poetry and some of the polish and surprises of short stories. In the crime genre there must be moments of laughter and pitch-perfect dialogue.

What makes you decide to publish one writer, and not another?
Originality, style and insight into the darker side of their society.

Technology and the rise of Kindle and iPads etc have revolutionised the publishing industry. How have publishers adapted to industry changes?
I can only speak for BLP. We have been early enthusiasts about e-books, but remain lethargic concerning interactive and other enhanced books.

Do you think the physical book will die away eventually?
No, not a chance. Even in the crime genre in the US the share of eBooks vs. PB has been steady at 50% for the last two years.

Your views on marketing and distribution?
In another life I would like to be a publisher in Germany or France: fixed book prices, thriving neighborhood book stores, enthusiastic readers of foreign literature.

How do you deal with your colleagues – are you very involved, or do you just let them get on with it?
Very involved, but we are just four in the business and one is my brother. But also very involved with our regular team of freelancers, designers, PR people, copy-editors, etc.

How do you relax?
Walk or ski in forests.

Your favourite qualities in a man?
Curiosity and loyalty.

Your favourite qualities in a woman?
Curiosity and loyalty.

For what faults do have you most tolerance?
Being opinionated. Sounds like a compliment.

Your chief characteristic?
Being opinionated.

Your chief fault?
Being opinionated.

Your bedside reading?
Always some Maigret to cleanse the palate after reading too many submissions. Matthew Crawford’s The Case for Working with Your Hands.

Your favourite prose author?
Thomas McGuane.

Your favourite poet?
Alice Oswald.

Your favourite heroes in fiction?
Chili Palmer, Raylan Givens and Aurelio Zen.

Your favourite heroines in fiction?
Emma Bovary and Emma Woodhouse.

Your heroes in real life?
Nicolas Bouvier and François Truffaut.

Your favourite heroines in real life?
Lucy Walker and Ella Maillart.

Your greatest achievement?
Pass.

Format © BookBlast Ltd, London.

Published by

georgia DC

Bilingual editor, rewriter, French-to-English translator. Has written for 3am magazine, words without borders, The Independent, The Lady, Banipal, Prospect Magazine, Times Literary Supplement. Currently writes for The BookBlast Diary. Founder (1997) of London-based writing agency BookBlast.

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