We’ve asked a bunch of independent and smaller publishers to tell us about a couple of their titles this year. Why single them out instead of asking the industry giants? In part it’s because, at a time when corporate publishing seems so risk averse, as Kevin Duffy of Bluemoose Books puts it, “It is the independents who are doing most of the heavy lifting in finding the new writers and voices that resonate and engage the reader.”
The Dublin-based Stinging Fly Press was the first to bring us books by Kevin Barry, Mary Costello and Colin Barrett, for example, and Galley Beggar Press, a British independent, was behind two recent winners of the Desmond Elliott Prize for debut novels, last year’s We That Are Young, by Preti Taneja, and, in 2014, Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing.
The Lilliput Press, the well-known Irish publisher, sees the role of the independent as discovering “those who have something important to contribute to Irish life, to celebrate individual voices and to give a home to work that other, more commercial houses may overlook”.
The modern reader expects books to read well, but also to be beautiful, desirable objects that appeal to all the senses
That kind of choice is clearly resonating with readers. Most of last year’s Irish Book Awards “went to native publishers, which was great”, says Ivan O’Brien of the O’Brien Press, who is also president of Publishing Ireland. He adds that Irish publishers had a “really strong finish” to 2018 in sales and critical reception, too.
“With a healthy bookshop scene and an audience that clearly still wants Irish books for readers of all ages, we’re confident 2019 will be good,” he says.“The modern reader expects books to read well, but also to be beautiful, desirable objects that appeal to all the senses – and we can’t wait to show the world the gorgeous books we have up our sleeves.”
Mike Collins of Cork University Press, which includes the Attic Press and Atrium imprints, says it aims, as an academic publisher, to release “the highest-quality work and to disseminate that information widely – but sometimes the success of a book can go way beyond its publication sales and reach a much larger audience.” That’s exactly what has happened for its award-winning Atlas of the Irish Revolution, on which RTÉ has based The Irish Revolution, its new documentary, narrated by Cillian Murphy, which is due to be shown on RTÉ One next month.
Christopher Hamilton-Emery is celebrating the 20th anniversary of his press, Salt Publishing, this year. What have been the key lessons of the past two decades? “Firstly, that skilled people and their relationships are central to the book trade. Secondly, that literature is the product of its readerships. Thirdly, that every silver lining has a cloud.”
We feel like we’re riding a fantastic wave of enthusiasm for small presses and our authors
That cloud, for some small British publishers, is Brexit. “We feel like we’re riding a fantastic wave of enthusiasm for small presses and our authors,” says Eloise Millar of Galley Beggar Press, mentioning Taneja’s Desmond Elliott Prize. “But Brexit and its likely fallout has taken all bets off the table. It’s going to have a catastrophic effect on publishing – and the smaller presses, unbuffered by bestsellers, are those who are most likely to suffer.”
Perhaps that’s even more reason to keep reading. Nikki Griffiths of Melville House UK says they’re publishing more titles than ever: “Books that challenge and inspire, books addressing neglected or little-known issues, and stories and books to escape into amid the Brexit uncertainty.”
Here are each publisher’s pick of two of its standout titles in 2019.
And Other Stories
The Polyglot LoversBy Lina Wolff; May 2nd in UK; April 2nd in United StatesStefan Tobler of And Other Stories says of this Swedish author’s second novel. When it published her debut novel, Bret Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs, it was her only foreign publisher. Now Lina Wolff has 17. Smart, surprising and funny, and always circling around #MeToo concerns, the book features Ellinor, a working-class, small-town Swedish woman who asks her date to teach her to fight, a metropolitan literary critic who hides his complete collection of Michel Houellebecq novels behind more politically correct novels, an impoverished Italian aristocrat, and a manuscript, also called The Polyglot Lovers, that leaves no one unaffected.
BergBy Ann Quin; March 7th in UK; June 5th in United StatesThe Unmapped Country, a collection of Ann Quin’s unpublished stories and final, unfinished novel, comes this reissue of her first novel. And Other Stories says that Berg, set in a seedy 1960s Brighton, is madcap and macabre. The title character, who is calling himself Greb, has tracked down his long-lost father, who is now a washed-up music-hall performer. Greb wants to kill him but is comically unable to.
Leonard and Hungry PaulBy Rónán Hession; March 20thLeonard and Hungry Paul is about uncelebrated people who have the ability to change the world not by effort or force but through their appreciation of all that is special and overlooked. Written by a civil servant and indie musician who lives in Dublin, it is BBC Radio 2’s Book Club title for March.
Caravan of the Lost and Left BehindBy Deirdre Shanahan; May
Palestine + 100Edited by Basma Ghalayini; May 16thIraq + 100, a book of the year for the Guardian and Barnes & Noble, this new collection of stories is set in 2048, a century after the Nakba, or Day of Catastrophe, exploring the long-term consequences for a future version of Palestine. As well as being an exercise in escaping the politics of the present in a country that some have called the largest prison in the world, Palestine + 100 is an opportunity for contemporary Arabic writers to offer their own spin on science fiction and fantasy.
The Dressing-Up BoxBy David Constantine; July 18th
Cork University Press/Attic Press
Essays on John McGahern: Assessing a Literacy LegacyEdited by Derek Hand and Eamon Maher; AprilDeclan Kiberd, a former pupil at Belgrove national school, where McGahern taught, and from Donal Ryan, a writer who shares his predecessor’s preoccupation with people and place.
Protestant and Irish: The Minority’s Search for a Place in Independent IrelandEdited by Ian d’Alton and Ida Milne; March
The Dedalus Press
Stone GirlBy Mary Noonan; FebruaryStone Girl, Mary Noonan’s second collection, are beguiled by stone, especially stone statues of women: the statue of the Virgin carried through Seville on Easter Sunday; Camille Claudel’s sculpture showing Clotho, the youngest of the three Fates, as a destitute old woman; the caryatids of Paris, seeming to carry the city’s buildings on their shoulders. The allure of stone is matched by a persistent reflection on the nature of skin, and “what skin remembers”.
Then AgainBy Pat Boran; MarchThen Again he looks determinedly outwards, giving himself to chance and surprise, visiting parts of Ireland, Italy, France, Spain, Cyprus and elsewhere, travelling light and without expectation, and on the way discovering some of the unexpected connections between the past and present, between our personal histories and our shared fate.
Galley Beggar Press
Ducks, NewburyportBy Lucy Ellmann; July 4thDucks, Newburyport has already been making headlines as a book to watch in 2019, and with good reason, according to Eloise Millar of Galley Beggar Press. “It’s 900 pages, it’s one sentence long… and it feels like the Great American Novel we’ve all been waiting for. All of the USA is in it: right and wrong, better and worse – and with frequent detours into the wild insanity of Donald Trump’s White House. It’s also America seen through female eyes. The narrative plunges the reader inside the head of a stay-at-home mother struggling to pay her medical bills, communicate with her teenage daughter, put food on the table, keep her home safe. It’s fiery, furious and terrifically funny.”
PatienceBy Toby Litt; Augustis about Elliott. He may well be a genius, but he is also a boy unable to speak or walk, and living in a Catholic children’s home in 1979. Eloise Millar describes Patience as almost two novels in one: the first a bitter-sweet meditation on the frailties and pleasures of language and communication; the second a glorious celebration of childhood, friendship and the sheer pleasure of running riot. The plot revolves around a breakout attempt by the children – “It’s a bit like Samuel Beckett got drunk, decided to have a bit of fun, and wrote The Great Escape.”
The History Press
Irish History MattersBy Brian M Walker Politics, Identities and Commemoration, and planned for publication “in the aftermath of Britain leaving the EU in March 2019”, this book by the professor emeritus of Irish studies at Queen’s University Belfast considers not just Irish history but also how perspectives and treatments of that history have affected modern Ireland, north and south. Although knowledge of history can help explain our contemporary situation, an awareness of some of the myths and misuses of our history can further help create a framework for understanding our current political and social challenges.
Who Owns IrelandBy Kevin Cahill; MarchWho Owns Britain – one of the journalists responsible for the original Sunday Times Rich List – looks at the hidden truth of land ownership in Ireland, promising an exposé of Ireland’s most valuable asset, its land. His investigations aim to reveal the breakdown of land ownership across 32 counties, to show the truth about the people and institutions that own the ground beneath our feet.
Singer in the NightBy Olja Savicevic, translated from the Croatian by Celia Hawkesworth; April 15thFarewell, Cowboy, Olja Savicevic’s Singer in the Night is billed as a rich, sensual story that comments on communal perception, on how life is really lived – never objectively, never encompassing the whole truth, yet no less real to us. Set on the Adriatic coast of Croatia, the book is full of local colour and atmosphere.
Under PressureBy Faruk Sehic, translated from the Bosnian by Mirza Puric; May 15threview of the author’s previous novel, Eileen Battersby described Quiet Flows the Una as “one man’s non-heroic, very human engagement with hell, and the scars that never heal”. Istros describes Under Pressure as Sehic’s debut collection of brutal and heart-wrenching stories, inspired by his experiences as a soldier during the Bosnian war.
The Lilliput Press
Love Notes from a German Building SiteBy Adrian Duncan; April 4th
The ScarBy Mary Cregan; AprilThe Scar illuminates this often stigmatised affliction with grace and compassion, according to Lilliput, and offers hope to those still struggling.
All Better!By Inese Zandere, illustrated by Reinis Petersons, retold by Catherine Ann Cullen; February 7th
The Deepest BreathBy Meg Grehan; May 9thThe Deepest Breath will be of special relevance to young girls starting to realise that they are attracted to other girls, but it is also a story for any young reader with an open mind who wants to understand how people’s emotions affect their lives. From the winner of the Children’s Books Ireland Eilis Dillon Award 2018.
Melville House UK
This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against AgeismBy Ashton Applewhite; March 7thTed Talk, looks historically at the root of ageism and at our shifting attitudes over the years, and examines ageist myths and stereotypes. Melville House bills her book as a rousing call to action that will help readers think about their own possible prejudices and how to change things.
The Mannequin MakersBy Craig Cliff; June 6thColton Kemp, a window-dresser whose livelihood is threatened when a man simply known as the Carpenter comes to town and is instantly in huge demand. Kemp hatches a dark plan to make his name and thwart his rival, the consequences of which will echo through the years. The American novelist Eowyn Ivey describes it as “a story of dark obsession and family entanglements that will pull you in like a strong undertow”.
Two SoulsBy Henry McDonald; AugustGuardian and Observer’s Ireland correspondent. Two Souls follows three teenage hoodlums, disillusioned socialists swimming against tribal tides and a doomed teen romance that leaves a bitter, lethal legacy. The story incorporates a young punk torn by personal demons, a football hooligan shadowed by the presence of a psychopathic school friend, and a vengeful future terrorist. Set in Belfast, it moves between a love story in punk-infused 1978, a frenzied 1979 Irish Cup Final, and the internal paramilitary blood-letting of 1987. Think Irvine Welsh meets Martin Amis, says its publisher, Conor Graham.
Burned: The Inside Story of How the RHI “Cash for Ash” Scandal Exposed Northern Ireland’s Powerful EliteBy Sam McBride; SeptemberNews Letter’s political editor and an authority on the Cash for Ash scandal.
New Daughters of Africa: An International Anthology of Writing by Women of African DescentEdited by Margaret Busby; March 8thZadie Smith, Warsan Shire, Malorie Blackman, Patience Agbabi, Roxanne Gay and Bernadine Evaristo. The anthology includes memoir, short stories, speeches, novel extracts, poetry and journalism to demonstrate the diversity and achievements of black women who remain under-represented, and whose works continue to be under-rated, in world culture.
New Island Books
The Killing of Thomas NiedermayerBy David Blake Knox; MayThomas Niedermayer, a German businessman caught up in a war he had prided himself on staying out of, was killed while trying to escape. His disappearance shattered the lives of those close to him. Blake Knox highlights the savage reach of the Northern Ireland conflict and the ongoing private cost of war.
The Cruelty of the Gods: Aesop’s Fables for Our TimesBy Carlo Gébler, illustrated by Gavin Weston; April
The O’Brien Press
From the Air: Ireland’s Wild Atlantic WayBy Raymond Fogarty; February 18th
Where Are You, Puffling?By Gerry Daly and Erika McGann; February 4thSean Daly. Sean had the idea for it after noticing that the puffins and rabbits on Skellig Michael shared burrows; they’d surely help each other in times of need, he imagined. Sean died before he could see the book published; in tribute, Gerry has based the white-haired, bearded boatman in the story on his white-haired, bearded uncle.
Untying the Knot: How to Consciously Uncouple in the Real WorldBy Kate GunnUntying the Knot takes you through the process of separation as both parents and friends, from the first days of heartache through telling the children, what to do with the family home, and dealing with conflicts to finding yourself, coming out the other side and much more. Expert advice comes from Emma Kenny, resident psychologist on ITV’s This Morning; Stella O’Malley, psychotherapist and author of Cotton Wool Kids and Bully-Proof Kids; Sara Byrne, clinical psychologist; and Deirdre Burke, lawyer and family-law mediator.
The Complete Guide to the Best Pubs and Bars in DublinBy Kevin Martin; FebruaryThe Complete Guide to the Best Pubs and Bars in Dublin is based on surveys, questionnaires and extensive experience, and served with a generous helping of social and cultural history.
ExilesBy Dónall Mac Amhlaigh, translated by Micheál Ó hAodha; September 1stDeoraithe, one of the few novels to explore this “silent” or “lost generation” of emigrants, who were “building England up and tearing it down again”.
A year of women in translationChildren of the Cave (February 15th), by Virve Sammalkorpi, translated from the Finnish by Emily Jeremiah and Fleur Jeremiah. A neo-Victorian Gothic tale of adventure and intrigue, it follow a young explorer into the Russian wilderness as he grapples with philosophical questions about what it means to be human and the real threat of his fellow travellers. Next is You Would Have Missed Me (June), by Birgit Vanderbeke, translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch. Autofiction written in Vanderbeke’s stream-of-consciousness style, it follows her flight from East to West Germany. Last is Faces on the Tip of My Tongue (September), by Emmanuelle Pagano, translated from the French by Sophie Lewis and Jennifer Higgins. This collection follows the lives of those on the periphery of society, weaving together the mad, the mysterious and the disposed of a rural French village.
Penned in the Margins
WitchBy Rebecca Tamás; March 20th
After the FormalitiesBy Anthony Anaxagorou; September 2ndTom Chivers of Penned in the Margins. “Anthony’s poems often draw on personal experience to open up conversations with the reader, and in that sense they are profoundly generous. As the parent of a young child, I was particularly bowled over by his tender portraits of fatherhood. In one he writes, ‘I’m your father and the only person keeping you alive.’ This is poetry with both emotional impact and social purpose.”
A Perfect ExplanationBy Eleanor Anstruther; March 15this a book that will leave you reeling, according to Salt Publishing, whose director Christopher Hamilton-Emery says it gets to the heart of what it is to be bound by gender, heritage and tradition. He calls it an extraordinary book that conveys the unspoken with vivid simplicity.
Your FaultBy Andrew Cowan; May 15th
The Nature of SpringBy Jim Crumley; April 4th
A Proper Person to Be DetainedCatherine Czerkawska; July 4thSara Hunt. Czerkawska’s quest for the facts uncovers the truth behind family secrets and reveals what life was really like for some of society’s most marginalised groups: Irish immigrants, women and the working class.
Make Me a CityBy Jonathan Carr; March
Stop Being ReasonableBy Eleanor Gordon-Smith; JulyStop Being Reasonable she tells seven gripping stories, Scribe says, that show the limits of human reason and persuasion. From a woman who realised her husband harboured a terrible secret to a man who left the cult he had been born into and raised in, they prompt you to ask yourself, what if your most deeply held beliefs turn out to be wrong?
The Stinging Fly
Show Them a Good TimeBy Nicole Flattery; February (and in the UK, from Bloomsbury, in March)
The Red WordBy Sarah Henstra; March 21stThe Red Word is about rape culture at a US university, but the narrative is playfully structured, with reference to the Iliad, and knowing insights to the Greek system. It’s difficult to talk about this kind of campus novel without referencing Donna Tartt, says Davis-Goff, and it’s smart in a similar way, but Sarah Henstra is going directly for the patriarchy.
Minor MonumentsBy Ian Maleney; March 28thNotes to Self, by Emilie Pine, Minor Monuments is a collection of essays forming a half-memoir, half-odyssey. Ian Maleney – a regular Irish Times contributor – grew up in a rural Irish community, and he is both attempting to record that vanishing way of life and trying to understand his role in the world as an artist as he listens back to recordings of conversations and ambient noise. The book is funny, sad, cerebral and thoroughly engaging, according to Davis-Goff.
Dorothy Macardle: An Unrepentant PropagandistBy Leeann Lane; MayThe Irish Republic, from 1937, the first history of the revolutionary period from an anti-Treaty perspective, and the novels The Uninvited and The Unforeseen, from 1942 and 1946, which Tramp Press recently republished. The Irish Republic’s endorsement of Éamon de Valera’s decisions in the 1930s has allowed many of her contemporaries to view her as merely his mouthpiece, yet Macardle – determined, intelligent and independent-minded – was, as Leeann Lane reveals in this study, beholden to no male politician.
Laureate for Irish Fiction seriesBy Anne Enright; NovemberThe Irish Times, acknowledges fiction writers’ contribution to Irish artistic and cultural life. (The current laureate, whose term runs from 2018 to 2021), is Sebastian Barry. )
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