An Open Letter to the London-centric Publishing Industry from the Northern Fiction Alliance

An Open Letter to the London-centric Publishing Industry from the Northern Fiction Alliance

Dear Publishers,
The book world is changing. And despite being notoriously slow-moving, the last
few years have seen the industry take a long, hard look at itself, and question
how it can better reflect its readers and society. Various pledges have been made
and initiatives set up. Yet, again, and again, industry reports have shown us how
white, middle-class and London-centric our industry still is, both in terms of
workforce and the range of writers being supported and published. The lessons
from these findings are clear: if you don’t have a diverse workforce or product,
sooner or later you will disappear.
So, what is to be done? If our industry is, as it claims, committed to tackling
inclusivity then we need to start diversifying our workforces and, perhaps more
importantly, dispersing across the UK in order to better engage with and
embolden a new generation of writers, readers and aspiring publishers.
The provocation, the invitation, then, is this: set up outside of London.
By moving away from traditional publishing centres, together we can reshape and
redefine the current literary landscape. Publishing – and the arts more widely –
should be in the business of bringing in perspectives from the peripheries; yet it is
one of the most centralised and metropolitan of all cultural industries. If we want
our industry to survive, or even flourish, we need to challenge this ‘old
monoculture’ and embed ourselves more thoroughly in different spaces and
communities across the UK. The business case for this is an obvious one: by
moving outside of the capital, publishers can also slash overheads, increase
profits and salaries. And that is to say nothing of the potential readers out there
whose tastes and experiences are currently being ignored.
Which brings us to the moral case for this provocation: how much talent do we
lose because, for a lot of people, London is too expensive, too far away, or,
frankly, too chaotic to move to? What message do we send and what narrative do
we build when entry to this industry relies so heavily on insider networks and the
wealth within one’s background?
To bring about real and long-lasting change, we need to encourage greater
collaboration and dialogue between publishers of all sizes within the industry, and
be bolder in our decision-making, recruitment and acquisitions policy. And what
could be bolder, more transformative, than bursting the publishing bubble, and
reconfiguring the industry, so the peripheries can inform the whole.
But there’s no point just agreeing with this sentiment. Here is our Eight Point
Plan, for genuinely changing your publishing house. Who’s in?
i. Sign up to the Spare Room Project, if you haven’t already, and offer
accommodation for someone living outside of London while they
undertake an internship or mentorship.
ii. Commit to paying all your interns the relevant Living Wage (in most cases,
this will be the London Living Wage, which is currently £10.20/hour)
iii. Attend the Northern Fiction Alliance roundtable on regional diversity in
Autumn 2018.
iv. Undertake an internal workforce audit (including geographical
background) and provide the Northern Fiction Alliance with the data on an
annual basis.

v. Commit to publishing more regional writers as part of your editorial
programme, and develop a strategy to reach audiences outside the capital
(and literary festivals).
vi. Sign up to Comma’s annual cross-company mentorship scheme that will
connect Northern publishing professionals with industry experts and peers
from both inside and outside of the region.
vii. Encourage the next generation of publishers by volunteering to speak at
industry and public events outside of London, such as And Other Stories’
‘Is Publishing For Me?’ open days across the North, and Comma’s
National Creative Writing Graduate Fair.
viii. Set up a regional office in one of the cultural hubs outside of London.
Yours sincerely, 
the Northern Fiction Alliance



The Northern Fiction Alliance includes And Other Stories, Bluemoose Books, Comma Press, Dead Ink Books, Mayfly Press, Peepal Tree Press, Route, Saraband Books, Tilted Axis, Valley Press, Wrecking Ball Press

DIY: Start Your Own Journal, Press, or University

DIY: Start Your Own Journal, Press, or University

The Institute of Modern and Contemporary Culture and The Contemporary Small Press, University of Westminster invite you to a workshop:

DIY: Start Your Own Journal, Press, or University

Led by Professor Craig Saper, University of Maryland Baltimore County

Thursday 26 January 2017, 4-6pm

University of Westminster, The Boardroom, 309 Regent Street

Looking at a series of experiments in publishing scholarship, this workshop asks participants to propose venues and modes of presentation appropriate to the scholarly questions they seek to ask.

Admission is free, but please register at


Based on Craig Saper’s research on Intimate Bureaucracies and on his co-founding Electric Press and Textshop Experiments, founding Roving Eye Press, and starting experimental venues for emerging forms of knowledge, like the online reading machine that simulates a modernist project from 1929, as well as participating in others’ experiments in publishing including Punctum Books and the media-making journal HyperRhiz, this workshop asks participants to propose venues and modes of presentation appropriate to the scholarly questions they seek to ask. Based on Craig Saper’s research on Intimate Bureaucracies and on his co-founding Electric Press and Textshop Experiments, founding Roving Eye Press, and building an online reading machine, the workshop asks us to consider publishing as scholarship not merely a conduit for research.



Republic of Consciousness Shortlist

Republic of Consciousness Shortlist

Writers and publishers from across the UK and beyond gathered on Wednesday 11th January for the short-list announcement of the highly anticipated Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses. Creator Neil Griffiths, an award-winning novelist, aims to celebrate people collaborating in what he sees as a publishing revolution. The first of its kind, this prize represents a fantastic opportunity to reward the production of unique and innovative literature, crediting the publishers as well as the authors.

Long-listed hopefuls and their friends gathered in the stunning art deco surroundings of Waterstones Piccadilly in London’s West End. Susan Curtis-Kojakovic of Istros Books, long-listed for Quiet Flows the Una by Faruk Šehić, observed: ‘Small presses usually have a limited look-in on the prize scene, especially translations, so this is a welcome new development’. Meike Ziervogel of Peirene Press, long-listed for The Empress and the Cake by Linda Stift, agreed. ‘This is a great initiative that finally acknowledges the very careful choices made by small presses to publish books based solely on merit’.

Eloise Millar (Galley Beggar), Susan Curtis-Kojakovic (Istros Books) and Meike Ziervogel (Peirene Press)

Acclaimed writer David Collard introduced the event, declaring that this is the best literary long-list he has ever seen. He also praised the way the prize recognises small presses for publishing ‘beautiful books enriching our lives and challenging what is possible in literature’.

Before announcing the short-list, Neil Griffiths expressed how proud he is to be standing up for small publishers, congratulating those on the long-list which in itself is an outstanding achievement. He believes that such inclusion will help create momentum and increase interest in all the books.

Neil Griffiths with the short list

Eight books in total have made the short-list. Following the announcement, Charles Boyle from CB Editions, whose book Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine by Diane Williams has got through, observed that over the past twelve years, the range of small press books and authors has grown immensely. ‘It is fantastic to have that trend confirmed in the emergence of this prize.’

Eloise Millar of Galley Beggar Press said she was absolutely delighted that their entry, Forbidden Line by Paul Stanbridge, has also made the short-list, heaping praise on its author. ‘It can be very challenging for small presses to get publicity on a national level. Being short-listed therefore represents huge validation. This book to me is a joyous love letter to fiction.’

The winner will be announced on 9th March 2017.


Tramp Press for Solar Bones by Mike McCormack

Freight for Treats by Lara Williams

And Other Stories for Martin John by Anakana Schofield

Galley Beggar Press for Forbidden Line by Paul Stanbridge

Fitzcarraldo Editions for Counternarratives by John Keene

Daunt Books for Light Box by KJ Orr

CB Editions for Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine by Diane Williams

Cassava Republic for Born on a Tuesday by Elnathan John

Reporting and pictures by Becky Danks

‘Trying to get somewhere, going nowhere’

‘Trying to get somewhere, going nowhere’

Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett: Fitzcarraldo Editions, October 2015

‘I haven’t discovered what my first language is so for the time being I use English words in order to say things. […] I don’t think my first language can be written down at all. I’m not sure it can be made external you see. I think it has to stay where it is; simmering in the elastic gloom betwixt my flickering organs.’

This debut collection of twenty short stories offers an unusual, often eccentric and original insight into a nameless narrator’s reclusive lifestyle – a life of solitude that suffers nothing for it. In an age where no-one is ever quite alone as the buzz of an email, the ding of a text or the ring of a phone call continuously draws one away from the present moment, Claire-Louise Bennett’s beautifully poetic and reflective prose offer a strange and unfamiliar quietness. The chaos of modern life is pushed aside, as the reader enters a rustic cottage in Ireland with rugged, wild landscapes and harsh weather.

At first the narrator’s pedantic speech can come across as frustrating, suggesting a superior and slightly self-inflated sense of self, but readers should persevere as her peculiar ways grow on you. Her habits and reflections become endearing as her anonymity almost gives readers a sense of embodying the character themselves, vicariously living her day-to-day routines, thoughts, feelings and movements as she depicts her inner life and relation to the world around her.

An intimacy grows as the narrator’s humanity, cracks and flaws break through the initial layer of hard outer shell, revealing that underneath there are the whimsical, weird and subtle insights that people often experience, yet never truly share with another – the moments usually missed, left unsaid and forgotten. This collection is filled with delicate details of a life that stands still long enough to grasp the music and wonder of the world.


Many often fear the idea of being alone, equating alone to unhappy, lonely and unfulfilled, but the nameless narrator demonstrates the enriching life that can be led in one’s own company, where being unconventional and reclusive is still full of valuable, deep, sometimes unnerving and often quirky moments of self-discovery. In Henry Thoreau’s words, the narrator is brave enough to confront how ‘the mass of men [or in this case women] lead lives of quiet desperation’, and find ways of overcoming the monotony of life, the anxieties of it, as well as the flaws that cannot be changed. She faces herself and depicts a sense of being comfortable in one’s own skin, with all its bumps and blemishes. The narrator reflects on how life is just as much about what does happen as it is about what does not, where daydreams function as a way of enduring the frustrations of life and returning her to her ‘original sense of things’.

There is time, and there is quietness, to simply be. It is difficult to truly express the way in which Bennett encapsulates a feeling of seeing the world through new eyes, and how when life is stripped bare, one can start to recognise the small things again, like the way the rain catches in leaves, or tiny droplets attach themselves to delicate strands of grass ‘appearing, for all the world, like a squandered chandelier dashing headlong down the hillside.’

Bennett articulates the hindrances of life, of language’s incapacity to fully capture the essence of living, as the narrator declares that ‘I haven’t discovered what my first language is so for the time being I use English words in order to say things. […] I don’t think my first language can be written down at all. I’m not sure it can be made external you see. I think it has to stay where it is; simmering in the elastic gloom betwixt my flickering organs.’ Thoughts and desires seethe beneath the surface, and like a confidant, the reader accesses this inner world of a mind left to wander.

Comfort seeps through the narrator’s musings, revealing how one can relish one’s own peculiarities, offering an abundance of feelings that go against the grain and reflect the workings of an internal dialogue which has been given the time and freedom to truly consider itself. Whilst life may dictate a certain mode of normalcy, the narrator expresses feelings of disconnect, boredom, restless desire, erratic or unhinged eccentricity and wonderful impulses and thoughts unaligned with what is expected, articulating a far more human essence, in my opinion. The narrator reveals anxieties, moments of self-doubt and considerations on what she thought to know as true about herself and takes the reader through a journey of miniature self-discoveries along with often amusing, unique and bizarre inner dialogues of external happenings.

Bennett does not shy away from revealing the darker side of an individual’s inner thoughts, where the narrator is often led down paths of disturbing desires, considerations and actions, and other times must face elements of herself she wishes she had not realised existed, that are both sad and funny all at once:

‘perhaps the reason why I’d drunk so much for so long was because I enjoyed feeling enthusiastic about men and since that enthusiasm, which I so very much enjoyed, could not be brought about by any other means, I’d no choice but to spend a good part of my time becoming drunk.’

There is a randomness to her musings, ‘a method in the madness,’ with plenty of wit and quirk. The narrator has a stand-off in the dark with cows, an event that is all at once ridiculous and somewhat unsettling:

‘The cows stopped and continued several times over and always in the same rhythm, and even though, as they got nearer, I felt increasingly aberrant, I managed, actually, to defend my position at the gate.’

Strangely enough, Bennett manages to depict a full and engrossing image of a woman who is at once intimately connected to the reader, and an utterly elusive enigma, since the reader learns neither name, age, nor true circumstances of the narrator’s life. In the final story the reader is left with a third person narrative, a past haunting impression of a little girl – the little girl who lives on inside the narrator who even then felt more grounded to the earth and her inner thoughts, than others. There is a strange echo of a life lived that continues on after closing the last page.

Click here to buy Claire-Louise Bennett’s Pond direct from Fitzcarraldo Editions.

About the Publisher: 

Fitzcarraldo Editions is an independent publisher specialising in contemporary fiction and long-form essays. Founded in 2014, it focuses on ambitious, imaginative and innovative writing, both in translation and in the English language. Each book, designed by Ray O’Meara of the Office of Optimism, is published as a paperback original with French flaps, using a custom serif typeface (called Fitzcarraldo).

Review by Isabelle Coy-Dibley

Isabelle Coy-Dibley is a PhD student at the University of Westminster, where her research predominantly considers inscriptions of the female body within women’s experimental writing.


‘Aesthetic Ownership’ & The Small Press

‘Aesthetic Ownership’ & The Small Press

In an article published in today’s Irish Times, writer Fiona O’Connor continues her explorations into the state of the small presses by asking, ‘Can small presses save us from formulaic Fast Fiction?’.  

O’Connor reviews the recent Literary Criticism and the Small Press symposium at the University of Westminster, organised by Dr. Georgina Colby, Dr. Kaja Marczewska and Dr. Leigh Wilson as part of The Contemporary Small Press project, as a hub for bringing together writers, readers, publishers and theoreticians with an interest in the impact of small press publishing on literary production.

“A recent symposium held at London’s University of Westminster, Literary Criticism and the Small Press, focused on the means of production in literature as a shaping influence on literary writing. It’s an area of criticism largely ignored to date, but given the corporatisation of mainstream publishing, one that is badly in need of some attention. To what extent is literature tailored for commercial objectives? Just how much of what reaches the bookshops is decided not by writers but by those who, as one writer put it, “couldn’t write fuck on a venetian blind”?”

Quoting Dr. Leigh Wilson, O’Connor raises the question of ‘aesthetic ownership’ as literature becomes more and more generic and increasingly ‘morphs into content’ (O’Connor).

“Dr Leigh Wilson, convenor of the small presses’ symposium and co-founder of the contemporary small press network: puts it like this, “If someone goes to McDonald’s and their Big Mac isn’t the same as always, that’s a failure”. Wilson distinguishes between the legal ownership still belonging to writers, and the notion of aesthetic ownership – the particular writing style, unique trace of ownership as human stain on the writing that says “you can tell this is mine because of the way it’s written”. Wilson fears that it is this aesthetic ownership, gained in the years following the copyright act and the modernist developments of the 1920s and ’30s, that is now in question.”

Click here to read the full article in The Irish Times.

Republic of Consciousness

Republic of Consciousness

The Contemporary Small Press talks to writer Neil Griffiths about his new literary award for books published by small presses, The Republic of Consciousness Prize.

CSP: What are you suggesting by the award’s title?

NG: A grand name for a small prize.  The phrase came to me when I was reading A Girl is a Half Formed Thing, after I’d just read Zone by Mathias Enard from Fitzcarraldo Editions, both of which are deeply written within the… there’s something stream of consciousness about them but they’re not at the same time.  I think they’re articulating almost a kind of theory of mind, and so part of me was thinking that.  Does writing of a certain kind give us a potential insight into what consciousness is?  And what mind is?  Because I work in research there’s a lot of neuro-guff going around.  There’s a lot of neuro-philosophers who have completely rejected any notion of mind, rejected any notion of will, they just sort of think we’re pre-programmed computers, that in fact we live in a kind of causal nexus that means that not a single thing that we do do we have any control over, there’s literally the big bang and then there’s us, and it seems to me to be so palpably silly, and I think that there’s something about this writing that does create a sort of republic of  consciousness, that we can find or get a sense that other people, however it’s articulated, are like us, that we are like each other, and that we can get as close to knowing another through that kind of prose, and I think that’s hugely valuable and moral.  It’s a moral act to write like that.  Even if it is difficult.  Both Zone and Girl have done very well but they’re exceptions.  There are books of equal quality that don’t get that kind of exposure.

What is it about the small presses that enables that kind of writing?  Why do you not find that in the mainstream?

I think you do now and again.  What the prize is throwing up for me, having lots of submissions, is that quality is variable, that’s in the nature of the prose, the nature of the publication, whatever, but there are a number of small presses out there who clearly have a niche sensibility, and that is to publish what might be called avant-garde work, and I think there is a kind of community of people who kind of love and relish and want to support that and they end up in fairly close coordinates of each other, and that’s how the small presses come into being.  There’s almost an acceptance that mainstream presses are unlikely to publish these books and perhaps a rejection of the model that mainstream publishers offer.  I think that’s become my experience.  So the best of the [small] presses who want to do this, I think, are doing it with such commitment… Books don’t make money, but rather than trying to make something that doesn’t make money make money, they go, well let’s just try and get the best possible thing we can.  Publishing is not a very good business model.  There is a fit between the kind of amateur sensibility and the avant-garde.  Which means that occasionally you get these small presses doing it.

Equally with the short story, the short story is a difficult proposition for mainstream publishers, but small presses can take that up and there is a short story market and that’s an area of opportunity for them.  One of my favourite books from last year was Pond [by Claire-Louise Bennett] that is just brilliant: they’re not really short stories, it’s not really a novel – it was published by Stinging Fly who only publish short stories [now also published by Fitzcarraldo Editions].  That’s writing of such high order that it is astonishing: on some level mainstream publishers should be going ‘we will give you anything you want to have this writing’.  If they just set aside the commercial imperative and just think purely in terms of artistic merit – we have a tradition of gently avant-garde female writing, so she’s part of a tradition, it’s quite rural writing and at the moment that’s quite fashionable – but it’s just the sheer quality and the originality of prose and the originality of voice. If I was the head of a mainstream house I would just say ‘buy her, and pay her, and let her do what she wants’ because we owe that to her and the writing community.  That’s the kind of interesting place where that’s what a small press does when a mainstream publishing house should take a decision there.  And there are other books that I’ve been submitted that that’s the case for.

Neil Griffiths

How many entries have you had, how many books have you read and what is your sense of the wide diversity of books being published by contemporary small presses?

I’ve probably had about 20 entries and there’ll probably be about 40 by the time it closes in September.  There’s a couple of books which have been very unique in their own way, and I mean that in a good sense, that just needed better editing, better editorial control, a kind of mentor to guide them.  We’ve had a great book by an African writer based in Africa with a press over here, an astonishing book by an American writer, a couple of great Irish writers, short stories, multinarrative voices, classic modernist works: a [diverse] range, but the quality has been variable.

All the books come to myself and my co-chair Marcus and we read them for a very low level of quality control as gatekeepers, and if it passes that then it gets sent out to the six other judges who are all independent bookstore owners or workers, there’s one in the north east, one in Wales, one in Scotland, one in Manchester; there’s Sam at Burley Fisher Books in London, and there’s the deputy head of fiction at Foyles.  So a real regional spread.  They are instructed only to carry on reading if they think there’s any chance that this book is likely to end up on the longlist.  I don’t want to make it too arduous.  But at the same time I might say that I don’t think this book is right for the prize but actually you might have a readership for it.  So that’s another point about the prize, to give books exposure.

There’s been a couple of books that have been more genre literature than literary fiction and that exposure might help, so even if you don’t end up on the long or shortlist there might be a bit of exposure in those bookshops, so that’s a plus point.  When that finishes we’ll draw up a longlist, then there’s going to be a shortlist ‘do’ at Waterstones Piccadilly in early January.  Hopefully we can get a month of table space for the shortlist.  The big moment will be the shortlist announcement, because that gets more names and more books out there.

How has this experience shaped your understanding of the small press?

If anything it’s made me think that I want to start some kind of small press surgery, which is, if you’re a small press and you want to produce a book well you need guidance from people who know how to do it well.  I absolutely believe in the small presses and I feel as evangelical now [as when I set up the prize] but if I’m to be honest, quite a lot of them need quite a lot of help to actually get into a good place where they’re going to be creating viable novels.

Have you had much support for The Republic of Consciousness Prize since you announced it earlier this year?

There’s a number of ways people can support.  All the people I’ve asked to be judges have been very supportive.  The media to a certain degree have been supportive, The Guardian, TLS, whatever, but I think social media has been just as supportive, lots of people have got in touch through Twitter and Facebook.  While the books come in and we read them and there’s essentially a kind of lull, because that’s all there is to do, social media is to a certain degree keeping the flame alive in terms of awareness.

When I started the prize I threw in a little bit of cash myself, and I said that I would try and raise money elsewhere.  I’ve tentatively started that and that’s not going quite as well.  It’s always hard to get money out of people and I accept that.  I’ve gone to a few agents and I’ve written to them saying that often small presses are their last resort, if they’ve got a novel and they can’t place it with a mainstream publishing house, small presses are always there.  They don’t necessarily want their authors to go with a small press because there’s no money, but it’s better to be published than not.  So did they want to back my prize?  Nothing, I mean, not even ‘no’.  Just completely ignoring the emails.  Someone even emailed me back and said ‘I’m not going to support your prize, I don’t think prizes do any good’ and then he added, ‘you’d be better to spend your time trying to renegotiate financial terms with Amazon’.  This is someone who’s been published by a small press.  That seems to me a very unhelpful [response].

There’s been endorsements, Marcel Theroux, Scott Pack, Anthony Horrowitz, Alistair Campbell – I haven’t yet sent out a load of letters to wealthy writers to see if they’ll support it.  At the moment the prize money is £3000, which is kind of fine for the winner, but I want to get it up so that I can give money to at least the final three or four books that make the final cut.

Do you think this is symptomatic of a lack of support for small presses in general among mainstream writers, agents and publishers?


I think mainstream agents are fairly scornful of the small press enterprise.  I spoke to one agent who just looked at me with a sort of smirk at the idea that he would even go to a small press, he was too important for that.  But I think writers, who I haven’t spoken to yet, writers I hope will respond.  But I think publishing is a difficult business.  The mainstream publishing houses are fighting for retail space in bookshops, they’re fighting for column inches in newspapers, against each other, they don’t want a whole load of attractive, alternative, sexy, small imprints coming up and taking away [from them].  They want to manage that and have their imprint that does that.  I think it’s a battle.

I think British publishing itself isn’t a particularly generous place, there isn’t a great deal of money in it  so the people who have money want to protect it, the people who have jobs want to protect them, people who have power want to protect it.  So I think small presses have a kind of nineteenth century amateur sensibility, they’re still in it for the love, whereas it’s so tough to be in a mainstream publishers, you lose that after a certain period of time.  Someone told me the other day that at UA United Agents, each agent has to make 250k in advances just to pay for their deskspace, before they even start to make any money.  If that’s the case, and you’ve got a difficult novel that you know the mainstream publishers aren’t going to buy, it’s still a financial difficulty.  We’re not in a good place, in terms of the industry.

Neil Griffiths 2

Your next book is being published by Dodo Ink Press, how has the experience been different for you from previously publishing with larger publishing houses?

It’s been really nice!  I courted three small presses with my book and despite being a published novelist it’s still been quite tough.  Just because you want to go to small presses doesn’t mean that the journey’s going to be easier, you go through a very rigorous reading period.  With small presses they’ve got to really believe in it, which means that everybody on the team has to believe in it equally, and if you’re writing a difficult novel your chance of doing that diminishes, because people disagree about things.  But Sam Mills at Dodo made me believe that she loved my book, which was good.  They’re only publishing three books next year and mine’s going to be one of them, and they need to make it work.

We talk to each other as grown ups, I’m not treated like some kind of employee or indentured servant or slave.  We all know that we’re going to try and do the best for it.  They’re quite happy for me to have an input into the marketing and the cover, we’ve discussed the title, we’ve discussed my vision of the book to make sure that that accords with their vision of the book.  They just want it to be the best book it can be on its own terms.  It’s a long, difficult book about faith.  So you just might as well try and make it the best long difficult book about faith.

Leigh Wilson and Georgina Colby set up the Contemporary Small Press research project in response to the resurgence of independent publishing they had noticed as a result of the 2007/8 financial crisis. What do you think might be the impact of Brexit on the small presses, and what would you like to see as their response to the changing economic and political landscape in Britain?

[Brexit] can’t be good for publishing – good books are luxury items in a way.  There’s a rather utopian belief that when the world gets dark that art steps up and finds a place: I’m not sure that is or ever was true.  Certainly artists and writers have something to react to, but I don’t think necessarily that – apart from a small hard core of people – that you’re necessarily going to turn to difficult fiction because the world looks gloomy.  Certainly that audience isn’t going to increase.  I think it’s going to be quite grim.

Publishing on any level is a very narrow margin business.  And I think the financial crisis of 2008 meant that mainstream publishing houses had no wriggle room, and many people who were being published by mainstream publishing houses found themselves on the streets at that point, because they couldn’t afford a loss leader.  I’m not convinced Brexit will happen.  But I think it’s going to have a negative impact on mainstream publishers and a negative impact on small presses because there’ll be less money about – I think that’s just a given.  What will small presses’ response be to that, I don’t think there should necessarily be a response, in the sense that the only objective they should have is publishing the books that they love.  They may have more choice because the mainstream publishers may have to pull in even further and therefore maybe the result will be that agents will have to give more consideration to small presses.

The Arts Council needs to make sure that it carries on with its grants because that’s the only way half of them survive.  It’s actually for people like me and other people – small presses need a philanthropist – if I was a very rich man I’d be their answer because I’d just support the hell out of them.  But I fear it’s going to be tough and I don’t know what the answer is.  But I do think that initiatives like this [The Republic of Consciousness Prize], however tiny… If the prize money stays at £3000 and they give a grand to the author and the small press gets two, that is the price of a first print run of a new book, that just takes some of the risk out of one book.  And if on some level one can think of other ways of getting those small amounts of money it will just prop up what is essentially an artisan, amateur business.

Thanks Neil!  

Follow the progress of The Republic of Consciousness Prize here.

Success for the Irish small press industry

Success for the Irish small press industry

Writer Fiona O’Connor explores the rise of the small presses in Ireland…

Over the last decade an unusual phenomenon has emerged in Irish publishing whereby a number of small local presses have begun punching far above their weight in the international literary arena. Back in the noughties a healthy mainstream book market in Ireland had been hit by plummeting sales in the aftermath of the Celtic Tiger /credit crunch downturn. Harsh austerity cuts followed, many writers being excised from publisher’s lists and previously lucrative genres such as Irish chick-lit radically downsized. Post-apocalypse, the resurgence of a thriving contemporary literature scene powered by a proliferation of small magazines and presses is creating new possibilities for writers in Ireland.

Some commentators have seen disaster economics as a key catalyst for change. During a recent discussion at the launch of Granta 135, New Irish Writing, novelist/artist Sara Baume spoke of the lack of jobs for artists in Ireland making it ‘perfectly acceptable to be on the scratcher’ (the dole). ‘It wasn’t until everything went crash that we had to look at what is the value of money…Had I had a proper job I would never have written a novel.’

The contribution of visual artists to new Irish writing is a striking feature; writers such as Baume and Claire-Louise Bennett (Pond) ‘seem to hover at the edges of the visual arts field,’ according to eminent Irish artist Alice Maher. Publisher Declan Meade, of The Stinging Fly Press, concurs with this view of people with limited career opportunities in the arts feeding into small press publishing, ‘many of whom had crashed and burned with the bigger publishing houses.’ Meade also points to a ‘growing appreciation of the importance of small presses’ developing in the crash aftermath. He emphasises the critical importance, following the downturn, of Arts Council of Ireland funding for writers being maintained, as a pivotal factor.


Technological change is another significant driver in the emergence of the new dynamic. Capitalising on the ease and reduced expense brought by programmes, small presses have optimised their size where agility and the ability to react quickly give them advantages over the lugubrious bigger houses. Sara Coen co-founder of Tramp Press in 2014, and hugely successful in publishing Sara Baume’s Spill, Simmer, Falter, Wither, agrees that ‘It’s easier to be agile now.’

An ability to focus on one or two projects at a time, maintaining aesthetic values rather than commercial priorities in choosing titles, distinguishes these new publishing ventures from mainstream practices. Tramp co-founder, Sarah Goff-Davis sees a problem for mainstream publishers lying in their bottom line fundamentalism: focusing on a book solely for its ‘commerciality and not looking at it and asking themselves if it’s a really good book and worth publishing on its own terms,’ she says. ‘We’re approaching it from the opposite end. When we pick up a book from our slush pile and we read it, we just want to engage with how brilliant the book is.’

Tramp Press

Beyond the licence to recognise and pick up new talent, Irish small presses have also been instrumental in supporting emerging writing talent through mentoring schemes. Declan Meade flags up the importance of this role for publishing: ‘When Stinging Fly was faced with cuts a decade ago, the Arts Council said, increase your activity with mentoring. Which we did, and continue to do on an ad hoc basis.’  Allied with this support was the decision to publish short story collections as writers’ first books. Contrary to mainstream practice where the novel allowed sole entry to the literary party, Meade felt that not enough focus was being given to the short story form. Thus, short story collections including Kevin Barry’s There Are Little Kingdoms, Mary Costello’s The China Factory and Colin Barrett’s Young Skins, (all from Stinging Fly) launched careers in interesting new ways.

lilliput press
The Lilliput Press

Ironically, the short story form proved a good little runner commercially as such writers made their way towards international recognition via magazines including The Paris Review, The New Yorker and Granta, because of and not despite their niche status. Development of a supportive American readership has been one of the major advantages in creating a recognisable Irish literary identity that draws to it a succession of new names and styles as it rolls forwards. The Irish connection with the US is of long standing, given the Irish diaspora. But Paul Muldoon, Professor of Poetry at Princeton, pointing to the years of The Troubles, finds that for many Irish writers ‘it was more natural…to look to the US than to England.’

The support of newspapers at home too, and principally The Irish Times book section, edited by Martin Doyle, has been instrumental in building credibility for emerging writers and for work that often challenges commercial publishing. This combination of factors, Meade sees, has led to a favourable environment for new writers and writing in Ireland and is heralding the next wave of publishers, now taking their places in a vibrant milieu. The outcome has been international success for literary novels and short story collections, amongst them:

Donal Ryan 2012, The Spinning Heart, Lilliput Press – Booker longlisted, Guardian First Book Award, European Union Prize for Literature

Mary Costello 2012, The China Factory, Stinging Fly Press

Colin Barrett 2013, Young Skins, Stinging Fly Press – Winner of Guardian First Novel Award

Sarah Baume 2013, Spill Simmer Falter Wither, Tramp Press, Heinemann – winner of Davy Byrne Prize 2015 and first published in Stinging Fly Magazine, one of the Granta 2016 young Irish writers

Eimear McBride’s 2014, A Girl is a Half Formed Thing, Galley Beggar Press – Won last year’s Bailey’s Prize for fiction

Thomas Morris 2015, We Don’t Know What We’re Doing, Faber – Winner of Somerset Maugham Prize 2016 – until recently Morris was editor of Stinging Fly Mag

Joanna Walsh 2015, Vertigo, Tramp Press – First published in and The Dublin Review

Kevin Barry 2015, Beatlebone, winner of 2016 Goldsmiths Prize

Claire-Louise Bennett 2015 Pond, Stinging Fly Press – Now published by Fitzcarraldo Editions

Mike McCormack 2016, Solar Bones, Tramp Press

Other notable small presses include Lilliput Press, New Island Books, Ward River Press, Dublin Publisher’s Cooperative, Kevin Barry’s Winter Papers, an anthology of Irish writing.

Notable poetry presses include The Gallery Press, Salmon Poetry, Dedalus Press and Doghouse Press.


Fiona O’Connor is an Irish writer and academic currently teaching at University of Westminster. She is a Hennessy Short Story Prize winner among other awards. Her work appears in The Stinging Fly, Crannog, Fiction International and nth Position. She is a regular contributor to The Irish Times and has written features for The Guardian, Time Out and The Big Issue.