Small press pop quiz - Fitzcarraldo Editions

15 September 2014 / 1 comment
What makes Fitzcarraldo Editions different to other publishers?
I decided to set up Fitzcarraldo Editions because, very simply, I believe there is space in UK trade publishing for a serious literary press focusing on ambitious, imaginative and innovative writing, both in translation and in the English language.

Before embarking on this project, I co-founded The White Review with Ben Eastham, and found that there was an appetite for fiction that grappled with contemporary themes and issues as well as experimenting with form and style. As a magazine editor, I got to know the British trade publishing landscape, and it strikes me that there are few presses willing to take risks on serious and 'literary' fiction, much less when it is translated. At Fitzcarraldo Editions, we'll be publishing three novels in the first year and the aim is to try to contribute to the culture by publishing books we feel are important 'literary' novels.

As well as working on The White Review, I also had a job as commissioning editor at Notting Hill Editions for two years. At NHE we published long-form essays: both new editions of classics like Joe Brainard's I Remember (which, amazingly, had never appeared in Britain before), and new work by the likes of Deborah Levy, Joshua Cohen and Jonathan Littell. When it comes to the essay, British publishers are equally conservative: the big publishers tend to stick to publishing 360-page non-fiction blockbusters, whereas their counterparts in France or Germany have imprints dedicated to publishing shorter essays by their important authors. There's a gap in the market for the long-form essay.

What kind of manuscripts are you looking for?
As mentioned above, ambitious, imaginative and innovative writing. I take an ambitious book to be one that explores and expands the possibilities of the form, that is innovative and imaginative in style, that tackles subjects and themes that are relevant to the world we live in.

If someone was to read two books on your list, what should they be?
There are only two at the moment, so this one's easy.

When I was looking for a first novel to publish earlier this year, I was amazed to find out that Zone by Mathias Enard, which I’d read in French when Actes Sud published it in 2008, had never appeared in Britain. It tells the story of a French secret agent, Francis Servain Mirkovic, travelling on a train from Milan to Rome with a briefcase full of information about the war criminals, terrorists and arms dealers of the Zone – the Mediterranean – that he plans to sell to the Vatican. On this train journey, he recounts the violent history of the Zone in the twentieth century, starting with the Balkans War, in which he fought for a far-right Croatian militia. It’s an ambitious book in terms of subject matter, but it takes form very seriously too: it’s a 528-page stream of consciousness novel written as one long sentence (but broken up into twenty-four chapters). It sounds hard to read, but isn’t – the rhythm of the language, and the intensity of the episodes and anecdotes it recounts propel the reader along. It’s also a politically-engaged book that poses many questions about the violent foundations of the Europe we live in today. Charlotte Mandell’s translation, for the 2011 US edition by Open Letters, is excellent. I couldn’t have wished for a better novel to launch a publishing house with.  

As for Memory Theatre by Simon Critchley, it’s similarly ambitious in subject matter and form – taking as its starting point the discovery of a hand-drawn astrological chart predicting the author’s imminent death – but firmly rooted in the classical essay tradition that begins with Montaigne. It’s had some very high praise: the novelist David Mitchell called it ‘a brilliant one-of-a-kind mind game occupying a strange frontier between philosophy, memoir and fiction’. It defies categorisation and is also a short book – 72 pages – two things that scare traditional publishing houses.

What are you excited about for the coming 12 months?
In February 2015 we publish Eula Biss's On Immunity: An Inoculation, an essay in the American non-fiction tradition (think Joan Didion meets Susan Sontag) which takes vaccination as its starting point and moves on to discussions of the body, motherhood, paranoia, politics, and even vampires. Beyond that, we'll publish Mathias Enard's latest novel, Street of Thieves, in August 2015. In between, there will be three books, to be announced in the next few weeks.


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