1st September 2011 - Stefan Tobler
Publisher Stefan Tobler founded And Other Stories in 2010 while finishing a PhD in contemporary Brazilian poetry. A translator of poetry and prose from Portuguese and German, his next translation will be a book by Clarice Lispector for Penguin (UK) and New Directions. He reads French and Spanish too and is currently a Translators Association committee member.
And Other Stories: a new fiction publisher with its first books published this month - but why? Aren't too many books published? We felt it was time to try out a different way of publishing, powered by readers. Many people in publishing, including literary translators like myself, feel that some of the best authors aren't published in the UK because they are perceived as too risky for larger publishing houses. These might be books by debut writers, by 'mid-list' authors or by foreign writers.
As a translator, I knew that many great books were never going to be picked by the big houses. (Factors involved might be that an author is elderly and unwilling to promote the work in the UK, or doesn't speak English, or only wrote two books, or has too 'tricky' a style... and so on.)
About three years ago I started mooting the idea of a publisher of contemporary international fiction with grassroots support. Having worked for NGOs in the past, I knew that a lot can be done with widespread support for a project. The timing seemed right; people wanted to support extraordinary writing, rather than let sales departments, often feeling the heat of shareholders breathing down their necks, decide book selection. And support did come - with literary and business advice, money (from individual subscribers and the National Lottery via Arts Council England) and help of all kinds, not least from blogs and the social media.
To ensure we find great books, we run reading groups, where a bunch of readers can read one of a few select titles that we could publish. Among the readers are eminent translators and authors. We're open to suggestions that fit in with the contemporary fiction we publish.
Our recent Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, French and German reading groups brought wonderful books to light. Some of which we are publishing this year and next. We are delighted to have one of our favourite bookshops, Foyles, showcasing our first four books already, even if not all of them are officially published yet! The books have a beautiful series design, nice thick Munken paper and French flaps. (We want them to be collectable.) Since many of our authors will be new to readers in the UK, each book comes with an introduction or afterword by a writer who loves the book.
Juan Pablo Villalobos' short novel Down the Rabbit Hole and Clemens Meyer's prize-winning story collection All the Lights launch our list; they were published yesterday.
Down the Rabbit Hole is about a Mexican drug lord's boy who really wants a pygmy hippo from Liberia. It is obliquely about the tragic drugs war in Mexico, but it is also very funny because of the boy's skewed ideas about the world beyond the fortress home which he barely leaves. Adam Thirlwell in his introduction, points out that it is 'a miniature high-speed experiment with perspective ... a deliberate, wild attack on the conventions of literature'. The Guardian has just announced it will be on the 2011 Guardian First Book Award longlist.
Clemens Meyer's All the Lights is, as Stuart Evers points out in his introduction, a fascinating collection of stories which take the best of the American tradition of sparse short stories about lost and damaged people at the bottom of society with an injection of European experimentation. Everything isn't fine in society, but Meyer crafts fine and subtle stories about people, whether they stack shelves or have spent time behind bars. His translator Katy Derbyshire, who also blogs as Love German Books, has got his tone just right.
Our October and November titles - although both are available from Foyles now - have been just as carefully selected.
Swimming Home is the long-awaited new novel from London writer Deborah Levy (of Beautiful Mutants and many other books acclaimed by writers including Jeanette Winterson and Mary Gaitskill). It is a gripping read with hidden depths, from a writer who is a vital part of the UK's literary landscape, as Tom McCarthy's introduction (which you can read here) makes clear.
When our first Spanish reading group met up, an Argentine student said Open Door by Iosi Havilio was creating a real buzz in Argentina. So our circle of Spanish readers took a look at it. It attracted passionate debate. Obviously a real 'Marmite' book, it brought out strong reactions for and against it. Thankfully, we decided to publish it. Havilio is doing something new - he will divide opinions. We are sure British critics will agree with Boyd Tonkin, who said in The Independent to 'look out for Open Door by the much-praised Iosi Havilio'.
Our book selection comes about after reading silly amounts of suggested fiction, getting intelligent discussion of books going online and in 'real-life' meet-ups, and then weighing up that discussion. It's not about choosing whatever gets most votes, Pop Idol-style.
And Other Stories is a not-for-profit, which means that any profits will go back into the company, not least so we can continue to pay translators properly for their work - an often underappreciated and underpaid art. And our legal form means we can't be swallowed by a bigger (for-profit) fish, as often happens in publishing - so everyone's support is helping to create a truly independent publisher. We also hold open meetings to hear our supporters' ideas. Come along sometime!
To find out more about And Other Stories, visit their website.
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