In the first of our Publisher Interview Series, we talk to the founding Editor of The Stinging Fly Press, Declan Meade.
Q: As a publisher, The Stinging Fly Press has been around for just under a decade now, achieving great success with the likes of Kevin Barry, Mary Costello, and most recently Colin Barrett: what changes have you noticed in the publishing industry in Ireland during that time? What changes would you like to see in the future?
I think publishing is a lot more lively here now than it was ten years ago and this is on account of new publishers arriving on the scene and also, in some cases, new people coming on board at the existing houses. There are now more publishers producing not just more books but a wider range of books. That has to be good for writers and for readers.
Q: What are the challenges of being an Irish publisher? What kind of supports do you think the publishing industry in Ireland could be offered / is in need of?
Most Irish publishers are relatively small and we are operating in a relatively small market. A big challenge for Irish publishers is how to survive within this market. Publishers everywhere face the problem of being under-resourced – and small publishers are usually operating on half a shoestring. The Stinging Fly could not operate the way it does without the funding it receives from the Arts Council but from year to year that funding is not in any way secure. That said, I believe there is a lot of support out there for what we are doing – among readers, writers and booksellers, from the media and from other organisations within the sector – and all of this helps. I would like to see a firm commitment from government to supporting and developing the arts generally, and the literature sector in particular. There still appears to be this blind spot whereby government and state organisations will trade on the reputations of our literary stars, the big success stories, but they do not connect this back to a need to invest in the infrastructure that can support and enable future growth and success.
Q: According to your website, your focus is on publishing ‘the very best new Irish literary fiction’ – how would you define Irish literary fiction? Is it something with a solid definition, or is it perhaps something more fluid, depending on the individual writer and their book?
This question makes me think I should go change that on the website. Certainly I have no rigid definition of it in mind. I would never sit down to read a manuscript or a book hoping to get a blast of good Irish literary fiction. And I can’t imagine a writer sitting down at her desk, thinking that now she is going to write some ‘Irish literary fiction’. I am looking for story – and for a writer who knows how to write a story, who understands the craft required to write a story.
Q: Which book by an Irish writer do you wish you could’ve published, and why?
There is no one particular book, I have to say. There are many, many books by Irish writers that I love but I tend to take the view that if a book is published, well, that’s it, it’s out there and I don’t need to worry about it. I suppose if I had a time machine, it would be nice to travel back to the late fifties or early sixties and to spend a morning opening up envelopes with early stories from John McGahern or Edna O’Brien. Or to slip back further still and get to roll the presses on Dubliners.
Q: What are the things you look for when considering a manuscript? What turns a ‘maybe’ into a ‘yes’?
I am looking first and foremost for an interesting reading experience that in some way excites me and makes me want to share the work with other people. The work needs to be fully achieved. It all has to be there on the page. It’s possible that I will see ways that I can help make this happen by working with the writer on editing the manuscript—and then a ‘maybe’ might become a ‘yes’ if the writer is willing to engage in the editorial process. In my experience though a ‘maybe’ is more likely to end up being a ‘no’—or a ‘not quite there yet’—than a ‘yes’.
Q: Finally, have you any plans currently in the works, which you can reveal to us, for new anthologies or collections?
Our next book is the six stories that were short-listed for this year’s Davy Byrnes Short Story Award. That’s due in September. After that we’re bringing out two more debut collections, one by Danielle McLaughlin, the other by Claire-Louise Bennett. We don’t have definite publication dates for either of those yet, but hopefully we’ll get to do both of them in the first half of 2015.