Now in its second year, The Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses is making waves and highlighting the superb and genuinely original writing being published by diverse independent publishers.
“Most writers make less than 600GBP per year from writing and the average sales of a literary fiction title is 264 copies, so literary fiction is a super niche area of the arts,” according to Griffiths. “An award points readers towards overlooked gems with a specialized appeal.” This echoes what was expressed to me back in February 2016 by publishers and punters when I launched the BookBlast® celebrates independent publishing promotion online via The BookBlast® Diary, and the inspiration outlined in the piece: Why Independence Matters.
“The books shortlisted include one turned down by almost every mainstream publisher and one that was too experimental to even be considered . . . the Inpress roster of 60 small presses shows how small presses do something else, something different, and something all-important. There are no artificial bestsellers here. This is the age of small presses,” declared Griffiths from the stage in the University of Westminster’s oak-pannelled Fyvie Hall. The screen behind him flashed up the shortlisted authors, book covers and publisher logos.
What are small presses trying to do?
“Like indie record labels in the 1990s, indie presses take risks based on passion,” said Griffiths before summing up the ambition and vision of the six shortlisted publishers.
Edinburgh-based Charco Press is just one year old yet already has a title – Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz – on the 13-strong longlist of titles competing for the £50000 Man Booker International Prize 2018. (Though I am rooting for Virginie Despentes to win, having showcased her alongside Frédéric Beigbeder and Michel Houellebecq in the anthology XCiTés which I edited for Harpercollins back in 1999, showcasing French writers unpublished in English. Virginie Despentes is the gallic answer to Caitlin Moran.)
Die, My Love is on the Republic of Consciousness shortlist and Griffiths was serious and jokey at the same time, “We were first . . . we will always be your first.” He described it as being, “One of the rawest expressions of frustration I have ever read . . . An expression of frustration, passionately fierce about love, motherhood, being a woman, as well as the sheer frustration of living in the country with your in-laws.”
Griffiths described Charco Press as being, “Ambitious . . . their aim being to change the current literary scene and make room for literature that has been overlooked . . . publish works that feed the imagination, change perspectives, spark debate . . . bring to you bestselling authors who have won awards and received critical acclaim yet have never been published in English and who you have never heard of – until now.”
Norwich-based Galley Beggar Press was also on last year’s list – the first year of the prize. The website states that it is “is a business dedicated to art. Our most important aim is to produce and share superb literature.”
We That Are Young by Preti Taneja is a modern day King Lear set against the backdrop of the anti-corruption riots in India in 2011–2012. It is an “extraordinary, extravagant, exuberant novel which comes from the heart,” said Griffiths. “Big companies still publish some wonderful works but there are only so many slots for the outlier, the oddity, the work that might make a difference, such as this one.”
London-based Les Fugitives, a free-forming collective, releases 3-4 titles per year and provides optimal conditions in which its editors and translators can work. Blue Self-Portrait by Noemi Lefevbre is translated to perfection by Sophie Lewis. “During a ninety minute flight from Berlin to Paris, the narrator takes us on a crucial journey taking in literature, music, theatre, resistence to the Nazi regime . . . it is moving and perfectly insouciant . . . the translation by Sophie Lewis is immaculate” said the judges.
Stroud-based publisher Little Island Press is less than two years old, and publishes poetry and innovative intellectually ambitious writing in elegant editions designed by a typographic research studio. Darker with the Lights On by David Hayden is “a brilliantly disturbing and unclassifiable debut collection,” according to The Guardian. “It is raw perfection,” said Griffiths, “He writes to excite, confound, scare and exhilarate.”
Manchester-based Dostoyevsky Wannabe publish experimental underground books of any kind . . . poetry, chapbooks, samplers . . . the only criteria is that what they produce must be very good or very bad in a good way. On their @dw_wannabe twitter feed they say: Buy our books because they cost fuck all and they’re cool.
Gaudy Bauble by Isabel Waidner is “by the most uniquely original and imaginative writer in the UK today . . . it is a blast to read . . . a flux of transliteracy, a truly memorable new voice,” said the judges.
According to the blurb, the book stages a glittering world populated by Gilbert & George-like lesbians, GoldSeXUal StatuEttes, anti-drag kings, maverick detectives, a transgender army equipped with question-mark-shaped helmets, and pets who have dyke written all over them.
And the winner is . . .
Based in East London, Influx Press publishes stories from the margins of culture, specific geographical spaces and sites of resistance that remain under explored in mainstream literature. The press is run by Kit Caless and Sanya Semakula. Attrib. and other stories by Eley Williams centres upon the difficulties of communication and the way in which one’s thoughts — absurd, encompassing, oblique — may never be fully communicable and yet can overwhelm. “She brings her writing alive on the page, it moves . . . takes the top of your head off,” said the judges.
The judging panel of twelve booksellers, book reviewers, a critic for the TLS and passionate readers included a favourite book blogger of ours, Jackie Law @followthehens. I asked her about the experience and she said, “It has been a pleasure and a privilege . . . I have been granted access to some of the best literary fiction published in 2017. Every book on the longlist deserves to be read . . . Preferably buy direct from the publisher or from a bookshop as this helps keep them afloat. These presses are a treasure trove for discerning readers.“
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