behind the scenes with meike the publisher of peirene press

I asked Meike if she could answer some questions about peirene and setting up this vibrant new press that publishes novels under 200 pages in translation ,right up winstonsdad street ,I ve already read beside the sea and will be reading stones in landslide this month .So here are Meike’s answers and thanks very much

1. What brought you to Britain and to publishing ?

I came to London in 1987 to study Arabic and Arabic Literature at the School of Oriental and African Studies. After my MA I worked for the publisher Routledge and then went into Journalism, working for Agence France Press in Paris, Reuters and FTTV in London. In my spare time I’ve always loved reading. Speaking four languages allows me to read from many different cultures. Over the years I have become acutely aware how little foreign literature is read in the UK and so I decided to set up Peirene to make a difference.

2. How hard was it to set up Peirene press ?

I registered Peirene as a company in May 2008 and in February 2010 I published the first book. So it took nearly two years to get the show on the road. A lot had to fall into place. I had to build relationships with publishers abroad, acquire the first texts, obtain a design, create a website, find printers, hire editors and  proofreaders, locate a distributor, sign up sales reps, establish a network of reviewers and of course set up the Peirene Salon – a very important part of Peirene Press as I am very keen to build a community of booklovers.

 3. What writers do you enjoy ?

I love the writings of Sylvia Plath, the German Ingeborg Bachmann and the Brazilian Clarice Lispector. I also read a lot of Philosophy: writers from the 19th century  such as Nietzsche and Kierkegaard together with contemporary French female philosophers such as Julia Kristeva, Luce Irigaray and Helen Cixous. As for modern English writers, I like Anne Enright and Angela Carter (well, not so modern any longer)

 4. You have chosen to use French flaps and nice paper for the books was this to make the books stand out ?

Books are objects and I wanted to create nice, affordable objects that feel luxurious when you hold them in your hands.

5. Having read beside the sea ,I think its a real gem why do you think that it and stones in landslide were overlooked before now ?

In general, UK publishers shy away from short books. I don’t understand their reasoning as I believe that to complete a good book in a couple of hours can leave you with a beautifully satisfying feeling. 

In addition, with Beside the Sea I believe publishers were worried about the controversial subject matter. They didn’t want to cause a stir

With Stone in a Landslide it is most likely that no publisher or editor had actually read the book as very few English people speak Catalan. I was lucky because I came across the German translation as soon as it was published three years ago.


6. What future plans have you ?

I am very aware that the first three Peirene Books, Beside the Sea by Veronique Olmi, Stone in a Landslide by Maria Barbal, and Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman by Friedrich Christian Delius, are “female” texts – female protagonists epitomizing female experiences. Two of these books are also written by women. I therefore decided to make 2011 Peirene’s Year of the Man – Male writers expressing male views of the world through male protagonists. First title for 2011 will be “Next World Novella” by German writer Matthias Politycki – a clever love story about a man who takes life at face value and a woman who is more interested in the life after death. The next book is a Dutch “road novel” by Jan van Mersbergen, “Tomorrow Pamplona” about two men, a boxer and a family man on their way to the bull run in Pamplona. Very Hemmingway indeed. And last but not least a fantastic, bizarre, Kafkaesque collection of Austrian short stories by Alois Hotschnig, “Maybe This Time”.

7. How hard is it to get funding for the translations ?

For each book I have to acquire the translation rights first before I can apply to the relevant Cultural Institute for translation funding. So far I was lucky and always received some support. However the money varies hugely – anything from 25% to 90% of the overall translation cost.

8. As someone who reads mostly translations myself ,I d love to know how you pick the translators for the books ?

Before commissioning a translator, I ask for a sample translation of the first 1000 words of the text, so I can see if the translator has understood the rhythm and voice of the book. However, sometimes a translator approaches me with a translated text. This was the case with Adriana Hunter who translated Beside the Sea and Tess Lewis who translated Maybe This Time (Peirene Title No 6). In both cases the translators loved the text so much that they made the translation in their own time.

July 2010


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